BWW REVIEW: Heart-warming Nostalgia With A Contemporary Twist, THE WIZARD OF OZ Captures The Imagination Of Young And Old.
Thursday 4th January 2018, Capitol Theatre Sydney
Breathing new life into the 1939 classic motion picture, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams' adaptation of THE WIZARD OF OZ finally landed in Sydney to the delight of the opening night audience. A feast of colour, movement, pyrotechnics, incredible costumes and clever new music combines with fabulous performances from a stellar cast of two and four legged talent.
Staying true to the memories of the movie that enchanted many young minds over the years, Lloyd Webber and Sams, who also directed the production, created a fresh take on the classic with more detailed characters and a better connection between the inhabitants of Kansas and Oz. New music by Tim Rice (Lyrics) and Lloyd Webber (Music) sits alongside E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen's iconic songs to make this more than just a trip down memory lane, but rather a blend of nostalgia and contemporary stylings, ensuring it stands up alongside contemporary musical theatre creativity. The new songs like Nobody Understands Me, Wonders of The World and Already Home/Home Is A Place In Your Heart help introduce characters and explain motivations in a way that was missing in the movie, helping to give more substance to the characters and create a layered work that engages both the young and mature audiences.
Scenic and Costume Designer Robert Jones has ensured that memories of the movie are triggered with his styling of depression era rural Kansas, recreating the sepia palette which MGM adopted to reflect Dorothy's view of her real world. The endless skies in Jon Driscoll's layered Video and Projection design give way to Jones' tableau of farm life which continues the impression of space as rustic farm houses disappear into the distance before Driscoll takes the audience through the tornado and over the rainbow with more cinematography. Jones has created a delightful expression of the gardens of Munchkinland that are an explosion of colour beneath an illuminated rainbow. With Hugh Vanstone's lighting design, Jones ensures that the suspense is built as Dorothy makes her way into the forests where she finds her friends, keeping the stage shallow to ensure there is an immediacy to the work and the little group aren't lost in a vast space, reserved for the larger ensemble numbers. Jones Emerald City has grandeur and height as the painted scenes of Art Deco buildings loom over the stage whilst a wrought iron tower allows the Wicked Witch of the West To strike fear from on high.
Whilst Dorothy retains the iconic blue gingham and bobby socks, Jones has refreshingly given Glinda The Good and The Wicked Witch Of The West a much needed makeover. Gone is the girly pink as Glinda is given a more mature blue hue in a stunning glittering ballgown and a impressive new way to arrive whilst the Wicked Witch is in a frock of black feathers for travelling and a more risqué corset, fishnets and thigh high slit skirt when in the 'comfort' of her tower. Reinforcing that the two witches are meant to be cousins, the two combatants sport similar cone shaped coifs in their signature blue and black respectively, doing away with the stereotypical witches hat and ensuring that the production is seen as stand alone, distanced from the styling of the other famous story of the witches of Oz.
Arlene Phillips gives the production a detailed and creative movement, adopting a variety of styles to convey the different characters. The opening number on the farm introduces the characters more through their mannerisms, particularly farmhands Hunk, Hickory and Zeke as they squabble and bicker over the generator. Whilst the ensemble performers are not particularly diminutive, Phillips' uses a stooped and crouched choreography to convey that the Munchkins are different to Dorothy and Glinda although the gimmick of a stunted hoe down does wear thin relatively quickly. The most impressive choreography comes from travellers as each of Dorothy's friends injects their characters own mannerism and limitations into their performance.
The casting is wonderful with relative newcomer Samantha Dodemaide stepping into the coveted Ruby Slippers and her first lead role in a main stage musical whilst Lucy Durack and Jemma Rix return to the characters that helped cement their musical theatre fame in the Australian production of WICKED. Eli Cooper, Alex Rathgeber and John Xintavelonis have created endearing, sensitive and playful farm hands and friends of Dorothy as they take on the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion whilst musical theatre veteran Anthony Warlow gives Professor Marvel and The Wizard the requisite gravitas.
Dodemaide brings an innocence to the misunderstood orphan whilst she balances the challenge of evoking memories of Judy Garland's portrayal of Dorothy and making the role her own ensuring there is an honesty in her expression. Her vocals are beautiful and clear expressing the emotion well and giving the timeless songs a truth. Durack ensures that she has made this Glinda a different character to the one she portrayed in WICKED as she injects her trademark sweetness mixed with a fabulous comic timing to give the Good Witch a wicked sassiness as she channels Megan Mullally's Karen Walker in sound and manner. Rix also differentiates her Wicked Witch from Elphaba, ensuring that both Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West are clearly seen as the nothing like the well-meaning Elphaba as she draws inspiration from pantomime villains but generally keeps her from being as bitter and sinister as the movie version.
Cooper has an amazing physicality as Hunk and the Scarecrow whilst creating a character reminiscent of Sean Hayes' dim-witted Jack McFarland. Rathgeber gives Hickory and the Tin Man a sensibility and kindliness as the smarter of the trio whilst Xintavelonis appears to draw on James Cordon to give Zeke and the Lion a comical physicality as he tries to roar but only receives responses of laughter. The three have a perfect chemistry that ensures that comic moments land perfectly whilst also alluding to the cultural reference of being 'friends of Dorothy' with deliciously camp performances. Alongside the human performers, Australian Cairn Terriers Trouble and Flick often threaten to steal the show as they share the role of Toto. Whilst often carried, their calm nature amongst the noise and movement on stage and coming from the audience is testament to Animal Trainer Luke Hura's skill to ensure they stay when required, albeit adding in the odd yawn and scratch that elicits giggles throughout the audience, particularly when Dodemaide is trying to express more thoughtful moments like Over The Rainbow or Xintavelonis, Rathgeber and Cooper are attempting the save Dorothy in If We Only Had A Plan.
Whether you grew up wanting to follow the yellow brick road and wear a pair of fabulous shoes or you want to introduce the wonders of Oz to your little ones, THE WIZARD OF OZ is sure to satisfy. It takes audiences on a trip down memory lane whilst it reminds people of all ages that we have the capability if only we look within ourselves, believe in ourselves and remember that there is no place like home.
Venue Capitol Theatre, Campbell Street, Haymarket
Season 30 December - 4 February
Performance Times Tues-Sat 7.30pm, Matinees Tues & Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 1pm*
Prices: From $49.90**
Bookings: ticketmaster.com.au or 1300 795 267 Groups 12+ call 1300 889 278
Venue Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season From 3 April 2018
Performance Times Wed-Sat 7.30pm, Matinees Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 1pm & 6pm*
Prices: From $59.90**
Bookings: bass.net.au or 131 246 Groups 12+ 08 8205 2220
Venue Regent Theatre
Season From 15 May 2018
Performance Times Tues 7pm, Wed-Sat 7.30pm, Matinees Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 1pm & 6pm*
Prices: From $59.90**
Bookings: ticketmaster.com.au or 136 100 Groups 12+ 1300 889 278