The Wizard of Oz is one of the most successful film musicals of the 20th century, so many audience members queuing up to see this latest stage version will have definite preconceptions of what their Wizard of Oz should be like.
If this sounds like you, then be warned – in order to enjoy this fine production to the max, check those past memories and expectations in at the door and pick them up on the way out.
Because this new Wizard of Oz production is a mix of the old and the new. All the much-loved elements of previous productions are there, but there are new songs penned by that English musical Lord, Andrew Lloyd Webber. Whether you will love the new songs or feel they are at odds with the rest of the score will be an individual reaction.
Personally, I don’t think the new songs in the first act add much, and consequently I took a little while to warm to the show. But once it gets into its stride it’s a knockout.
The costumes are a feast for the eye, and the use of digital effects to create different worlds rather than have clunky scene changes is an eye-opener in the best possible sense. It’s easy to feel that we too have been suddenly transported to the land of Oz and then back to Kansas, thanks to the imaginative use of technology.
And now to the cast….as one might expect, Anthony Warlow gets top billing in the dual roles of Professor Marlow and the Wizard. This is much more of an acting rather than a singing role for Warlow, and he is playing a man much older than himself. It is refreshing to see that in musical theatre occasionally blokes have to play older then they are, as so often it’s women who are cast in the much older character roles not long after they pass the ingénue stage, it seems.
Warlow’s singing fits the bill, and by the time we are introduced to the wizard, his skill for characterisation is in full swing, and it’s a very good wizard indeed. The early scenes as Professor Marvel don’t establish the warmth of character that we see later on, but it hardly matters as we travel the yellow brick road.
A relative newcomer to lead roles, Samantha Dodemaide is a superb singer who fits the role of Dorothy perfectly in all ways. This is a different Dorothy, as she is a moody teenager when we first meet her, before she learns how to value what she has at home. It’s a polished performance and we will no doubt see Samantha much more on our music theatre stages.
Dorothy’s faithful sidekick Toto, stole the show, as you might expect – in real life, the role of Toto is shared by cute Australian terrier Trouble and his best mate Flick. We are assured in the program that Trouble is a total professional, and nothing like his name!
Lucy Durack as Glinda the good witch adds daffiness, sparkle and great comic flair. Her sparkly blue gown and train are a wonderful sight to behold. Her nemesis, the Wicked Witch of the West, is played with great relish by Jemma Rix, who many people will have seen as Elphaba the dark witch to Lucy Durack’s younger Glinda in Wicked a few years ago. Rix is simply stunning, both vocally and as an actor with great projection and timing.
As the Lion (John Xintavelonis), Tin Man (Alex Rathgeber) and Scarecrow (Eli Cooper), all three give fine performances and work easily with each other and Dorothy. This is the first time I have seen Eli Cooper and he possesses a most attractive voice and great acting skills, so there’s another young performer we are sure to see more of in principal roles.
Directed by Jeremy Sams, who, with Lloyd Webber, developed the concept of this new Wizard of Oz with some darker edges, it also features an effective orchestra conducted by Laura Tipoki.
One word of warning – the special effects are thrilling for adults but may scare very small children, so perhaps bring your over 8s to this one and leave the little ones at home.
This new production seems to combine a filmic feel with live music theatre, and the result is a most satisfying theatrical experience.