12
Nov
17

The Wizard of Oz

 

The Wizard of Oz

John Frost & Suzanne Jones

QPAC Lyric Theatre

November 10 – December 3 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.

– Marilyn Monroe

 

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s London Palladium production of The Wizard of Oz hits the right glittering rainbow tone for its Australian premiere in Brisbane. L Frank Baum’s beloved story, enjoyed by generations since 1900, is brought back to life in a revel of colour and rich scenery. While it seems remiss to miss making more of the famous field of poppies and the flying monkeys, particularly with such talented aerialists amongst the cast, we’ll remain focused on the otherwise visually arresting aesthetic and enduring appeal of the show!

 

 

However, we’ll also just take a moment to note that some of Jon Driscoll’s digital design appears to be used in lieu of  – or in front of – old-school scene changes during blackouts, which others love but by which I’m unconvinced. Without having the same effect as the original film’s black-&-white-to-Technicolor wow moment (remember when you thought the TV must be broken?), it lacks the edgy sophistication to put it at the same level as the rest of the design. The visual impact of both the Emerald City and the witch’s tower for example, reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, is more lasting. Perhaps, like a lot of things Lloyd Webber, it seemed like a good idea at the time and even just a few years later – this version of the show premiered in the West End in 2011 – the projections, including the pre-show scrim design – feel dated. Fortunately, none of these quibbles detract from the overall effect, which is supported by Hugh Vanstone’s cinematic lighting design.

 

 

Director and Co-Adapter Jeremy Sams has worked with Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to bring the YES vote boldly to the stage, which in and of itself is nothing new, The Wizard of Oz (1939) having been claimed long ago as a gay fave film, and Judy Garland the global gay community’s kween. The updates are witty and funny and apt. When the Lion (John Xintavelonis) declares, “I’m proud to be a friend of Dorothy,” he earns heartfelt applause from Brisbane’s loud and proud opening night audience. For some reason the Lion has become that camp character, and Xintavelonis gets the balance just right, without us feeling we’re being beaten over the head with a blunt object.

 

 

He’s an adorable, loveable Lion and with Alex Rathberger as the tap-dancing Tinman, and Eli Cooper as the vague, scrappy, very funny Scarecrow, these three make the iconic characters their own. The very definition of ensemble, they generously support Samantha Dodemaide in her breakout role. (Yes, you might argue that her breakout role was Kathy Seldon in Singing’ in the Rain but I’d maintain that more people will see and retain a lasting memory of her beautifully realised Dorothy).

 

 

Dodemaide is sweet enough and strong enough vocally to make this iconic role her own; she represents all the misunderstood little girls who run away from home and grow up into their big, full, open hearts along the way to their Emerald City. Somewhere Over the Rainbow is sincerely, superbly delivered to us in the most beautifully measured mix, to us and to Toto (this coveted role shared by the most well behaved and affectionate Australian Terriors we’ve ever seen, Trouble and Flick, trained by Luke Hura).

 

To sell a song that’s been over-sung for decades is a tough gig and Dodemaide, with perfect optimism, nails it.

 

 

The indomitable Jemma Rix reprises the green skin and ghastly cackle of Wicked’s Elphie, but this Wicked Witch is the original, and she’s comic book kind of nasty rather than really vulnerable and vengeful, her unforgettable lines delivered with fresh, fun, mischievous energy, and without a spit of sarcasm. In anyone else’s hands this could be the less meatier role and while it’s lacking depth on the page, Rix gives the Witch multiple dimensions and emotions, making her a proper James Bond movie worthy megalomaniac. Her black feathered gown is the fantastic creation of Scenic and Costume Designer, Robert Jones, reminiscent of Maleficent’s high fashion look, and with her conical high hairdo rather than the black peaked witches’ hat of old, this is a savvy and stylish design choice.

 

 

And is there a better fit in all the world for a good witch other than our beloved Lucy Durack? She’s as Glinda as Glinda gets, and again, reminiscent of the role in Wicked, Durack is just as sweet, but without being saccharine, and gentler and kinder from the outset. This role too contains less depth on the page and as testament to the skill sets of both these leading ladies, the characters are made just as relatable as their contemporary counterparts.

 

Also, Durack’s spectacular sparkling gown allows her to enter from above, in full flight, descending like some glorious faery queen, and then the length of skirt, part of the scenery only seconds before, is whipped away to allow her to step into Munchinland. It’s a dazzling effect, but then Durack’s appearance always is.

 

 

Anthony Warlow is in top form as both Professor Marvel and The Wizard, bringing us an original wizened man of many tricks, with a genuine attitude of concern and care for Dorothy’s wellbeing (and, eventually, for her friends). Warlow emanates a warmth that makes both Marvel and The Wizard absolutely loveable.

 

 

The company includes the Sunshine Coast’s Rachael Ward, which is not the only reason she gets a special mention (although we’ll continue to claim her!), but also because our eyes are drawn to her every time she appears on stage. This is an exceptional ensemble – every performer looking and sounding sharp – so it’s no easy task to be a standout amongst them and yet, the statuesque Ward shines.

 

John Frost continues to bring the biggest and best looking musical productions to our venues, and I’ll be genuinely surprised if there’s anyone who is left unmoved by The Wizard of Oz this time around, with its updates and upscaled set (obviously, such a sap is in need of a heart). It’s retained a sense of nostalgia and allowed a whole new generation to see the land beyond the rainbow, and the love that – we have to hope – surrounds them at home.

 


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