Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new production of The Wizard Of Oz swirled into Sydney last week. It is quite incredible that this much loved story was originally written 117 years ago. Well not really this story. L Frank Baum wrote 14 Oz stories before he died in 1919 and adapted it into a vaudevillian musical in 1902. The movie premiered in 1939. Between the book, these adaption and the current version much has changed. The shoes turned from silver to red, the old witch of the North vanished, a lot of the darkness and all the travelling companions’ back stories disappeared. This latest version has added songs for the witches and Professor Marvel/The Wizard Of Oz and basically beefed up the musical score. There is nothing as endearing as Over The Rainbow or We’re Off To See The Wizard but Wonders Of The World, Bring Me The Broomstick, Red Shoe Blues and Home Is A Place In Your Heart give the show more depth and round it out a little better as a musical.

Overall the show is a good show and a success but I wasn’t as enchanted by it overall as my 6 year old companion, Chloe. She was absolutely thrilled. It was interesting to realise that in our modern world of Wicked and Frozen, the original Wizard of Oz story has been pushed a little into the background. This touring production will help bring it back. My companion was not as familiar with the story as I expected and it was interesting to see how she reacted to the show and its story.

Robert Jones‘ costumes and colour palettes ranged from stunning (Glida’s Dress) and inventive (Wicked Witch’s outfit) to perfectly recreated (Dorothy’s costume, Scarecrow, Tin Man Lion, Wizard of Oz). Hugh Vanstone‘s Lighting Design was stunning and Arlene Phillips’ choreography was, at times mesmerising.

The opening scene is a high energy, high speed farmyard piece that leaves no time for the characters around Dorothy to establish any relationship or even enough time to familiarise ourselves with their faces. They whirl in and out with a line or two to establish who they are or hint at who they might be. As a result my companion did not pick up the dual roles when they landed in Oz and was totally baffled as to why they were out of costume in the final scenes. The possibility that this was all a dream and the people around her at home were imagined into the dream’s characters was lost on her.

The performances are all high quality. Eli Cooper (Scarecrow), Alex Rathgeber (Tin Man) and John Xintavelonis (Lion) all provided great recreations of the original performances,  energetic and entertaining. Anthony Warlow does not get a chance to really fly in this show, his stage time is very short, but when he does get onto the stage (and not just a projected face) he commands it. Professor Marvel and the Wizard both get a song each in this production and, especially in Bring Me The Broomstick Warlow gets to show us just why he is a musical legend. Samantha Dodemaide was a beautiful Dorothy. Her unsophisticated sweetness never got too saccharine and her voice is beautiful. My only complaint is that Somewhere Over The Rainbow felt a little more showtune than deep, heartfelt yearning. Stand out of the night for me was Lucy Durak (Glinda the Good) and Jemma Rix (Wicked Witch Of The West). Rix relished in the role of the pantomime baddie (and Miss Gulch). Her witchy cackle was spot on, her evil threats and pyrotechnic wand had my companion enthralled. Her Red Shoes Blues was also a great addition to the productions musical numbers. Durack made Glinda her own. She managed to bring a wonderful dry wit to the character that lifted the show and made me wish the production had explored more of this with the other characters. These little throw away lines were some of the audiences favourite moments.

Of course it cannot go unsaid. The audience favourite was, and always will be… Toto. I am not sure if it was Trouble or Flick .. or both, who performed on opening night but every entrance, yawn and tail flick was greeted with ‘oohs’, ‘ahhs’ and applause. I certainly had a battle to avoid the $40 stuffed toy in the foyer afterwards. On that note it was quite refreshing to have souvenir items that were affordable like a little wand ($5) and witches hat ($10). All three of those items will be huge sellers.

For me, what felt out of balance in this production was the set and the effects. Ok I have been spoilt with the stunning pyrotechnics of Aladdin, the slick stylings of Matilda and the pure magic of Marry Poppins. And one can argue that these effects often take something away from good story telling. But I just struggled to get lost in the story when, as a tornado travels towards us, the front scrim descends between us and the action and a

projection of the swirling wind, spinning house and cackling witch take over. To me it felt a little underwhelming. Ok to have a tornado rip across the stage and carry a house away to another world may be a little too much to ask and the projection effect of the tornado coming towards us was very impressive but the house spinning with witch hanging off it was more of a recreation/tribute of the original movie scene than ‘truly memorable and exciting’. Despite my slight disappointment I was still carried along with the story as was my companion who had no problems at all with what was unfolding on the stage.

There were other scattered moments. A winged monkey snatches Dorothy ready to wing her back to the wicked witch – down comes the scrim and again a CGI of them taking flight engulf the stage while the actors exit stage right – no wire-flying here. Dorothy and her entourage walking along a short stretch of yellow brick road as it slowly turns on stage and the next companion is wheeled in from off stage to meet them. The Wicked Witch races up a flight of stairs in pursuit of Toto and (I actually did not see the action take place it happened so fast) we suddenly see the Wicket Witch of the West slowly melting and screaming, a bucket suspiciously sitting on the stage ten feet from Dorothy and 30 feet from the witch while some suspicious black material fluttered and moved behind and below the stairwell as the witch ‘melts’. Whatever the reason for these design and direction choices, it felt out of place on the grand Capitol Theatre Stage. Ok I maybe I am being over critical and maybe the intention was to recreate the original movie experience, the original homespun story without too many wiz-bang effects. It just felt a little unclear as to whether that was the case. To give balance most reviewers have raved about the visuals and effects. And to illustrate the differing perspectives on musical theatre appreciation, Chloe loved the witch melting and wondered how it was done. Maybe this cynical old bastard needs to be more forgiving.

A personal annoyance was an appearance of the Wicked Witch in the dress circle as she attacks the poor citizens of OZ. Well I assume that’s what happened it she was above where I was sitting and my guess is a quarter of the stalls could not see her.

Overall this production has benefited greatly from the introduction of the new musical score and songs. Some stand out a little and others just fill in the rest of the show without trying to compete with the big numbers we all love. While I have spent a lot of time on the issues I personally had with the technical side of the production, it is important to note two critical things. This is still a great story. It is a simple story filled with the dreams and yearnings that we all had as children and sometimes still have as adults. It is relaxing to sit back and enjoy a good unsophisticated story, told well with fun and memorable tunes and moments. The other important thing to remember when critiquing this show is that it has not been made for me, it has been made for my companion. Six year old Chloe loved it. She marvelled at the Wicked Witch and her sparking wand, she laughed at Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion. She sang along with We’re Off To See The Wizard. And she loved the streamers at the end of the show (Sadly that is only an opening night experience – I hear a sigh of relief from the ushers and cleaners). So her favourite moments? Wicked Witch melting. “Because it was amazing that she actually melted. I mean, how did they even do that!!??”. Also closely followed by the flying monkeys and the first appearance of Good Witch Glenda, Her dress was quite quite fabulous. Favourite song – Ding Dong The Witch is Dead. So is the show a success?… Chloe says emphatically YES.

Lynden Jones (and Chloe) – Theatre Now & On The Town


The Wizard Of Oz

The London Palladium production of The Wizard of Oz is an enchanting revision of the all-time classic. Developed from the ever- popular MGM screenplay, it contains the beloved songs from the Oscar®-winning movie score, all the favourite characters and iconic moments, plus a few surprises along the way, including new songs by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

!Book Tickets

 

30 Dec 2017 – 14 Jan 2018

Tue – Sat 7:30pm

 

Venue: Capitol Theatre
Theatre Company: Producers: John Frost and Suzanne Jones

Duration: N/A


Click your heels together as the world’s favourite musical returns to Australia from 30 December for 5 weeks only!

The London Palladium production of The Wizard of Oz is an enchanting revision of the all-time classic. Developed from the ever- popular MGM screenplay, it contains the beloved songs from the Oscar®-winning movie score, all the favourite characters and iconic moments, plus a few surprises along the way, including new songs by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Anthony Warlow will be leading the cast as The Wizard & Professor Marvel alongside your favourite witches Lucy Durack and Jemma Rix, who will be reunited as Glinda the Good Witch & The Wicked Witch of the West!

Don’t miss your chance to rediscover the real story of Oz in this fantastic musical treat.


 

Ticket Prices
$89 – $170

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