Posts Tagged ‘jemma rix


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.






Wicked Aust LLC & Gordon Frost Organisation

QPAC Lyric Theatre

February 15 – April 19 2015


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward




In case you hadn’t noticed, Wicked is back! The New York Times hailed it as “the defining musical of the decade” and once again, it’s not hard to see why. A new spectacular production comes to Brisbane for an exclusive season.



 AND LOOK WHAT ELSE! #howexcitement #wickedlottery





If you’ve never seen the phenomenon that is Wicked you’re in for a treat! This latest touring production is spectacular in every aspect, and boasts some new cast members who each add their own nuances to the songs and scenes so familiar to so many of us. Oh yes! If this is not your first visit to Oz, don’t hesitate to book again; there are plenty of new magical moments to be savoured. As I’ve told skeptical friends and family members since opening night in Brisbane on Sunday, unless you actually dislike the book and the score, this production of Wicked is well worth the price of your Lyric Theatre ticket and it might just be your favourite version yet.


Based on Joe Mantello’s original Broadway Production Direction, Lisa Leguillou’s staging doesn’t appear to be any different (musical staging is by Wayne Cilento), but what I’m impressed with is the calibre of this company in her hands. There is no autopilot here, despite the involvement of some performers in this show since 2008. How does one DO THAT? (We have three-week seasons on the Sunshine Coast!). It’s not easy to make each performance appear as if it’s the first time the story is being told. I spoke to our last Aussie Wicked director, Kris Stewart, and he ‘reckons he must have seen more than 300 performances whilst working on it! Obviously, it’s vital to get the casting right, and he admitted it was a joy to see this cast and this production fresh and new, after taking a step away from the show.


Let’s talk about this cast. I love them. Like, LOVE THEM.





To challenge even the die-hard Durack fans, Wicked welcomes back the sensational Suzie Mathers (an original Australian cast member in 2008). Mathers graciously reclaims the role, offering a little less physical comedy at this stage, and a little more (operatic) vocal strength than you may have gotten used to in the last six years. Her sassy take on Glinda (The Witch Previously Known As Galinda) means she is every bit Elphaba’s perfect foil, and like any popular schoolgirl desiring even just a little bit to shake hands with the devil, we see very clearly her inner conflict as she struggles to find a way to have it all.





Jemma Rix IS Elphaba, and if you’re not completely enraptured by this woman on stage (and off; she’s just gorgeous to speak to), you must be on drugs. Or dead already. I know, I know, you can never forget your first, but Rix is the best we’ve seen here yet. Why? Because there is not an instant on stage when she is not fully living and breathing this role. It’s exhilarating and thrillifying to see and hear her in action. Much is made the world over of Elphie’s vocal tricks and riffs, but Rix keeps it simple; it’s strong and superior. Loathing and The Wizard And I gives us our first delicious taste of the talent that has seen her in this role since understudying it in 2008. And those big belts, Defying Gravity and No Good Deed, seal the deal. Would you like to know her tips and tricks for keeping in good voice? So would I! #staytuned









Now, look, we’ve seen a couple of awesome Fiyeros. I love David Harris (his connection with Rix was palpable, probably the most passionate Australian pairing) and I love Rob Millsy Mills (I can’t wait to see him a little closer to home…a-hem. Details soon). Like these two, Steve Danielson brings his own gorgeous spring and step, and vibrant, cheeky energy to the role. He reminds me of Stephen Mahy (who is back in April as Brad in The Rocky Horror Show, but sorry Brisvegas fans, you’re gonna’ have to join the party in Sydney or Melbourne to catch THAT fine performance!). Like Millsy, who took a little while to be happy being Millsy being Fiyero, Danielson now needs to settle and trust and BRING IT!




Maggie Kirkpatrick does her thing even better than before, as Madame Morrible. I love her subtext, and she is believably regal and enviable and finally, completely detestable. And what a joy it is to welcome once again, a wizard who can sing the role. Simon Gallaher is perfectly cast (props to Frosty for that inspired call), and for that we say – no, we sing – thank goodness! Although rather more rotund than your parents might remember him being in the early years at QPAC, kids, Gallaher is light enough on his feet and delights us with his song. He is truly The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and because he is so lovely in the beginning we feel for Elphie more than ever in the chaotic winged monkey moment of his betrayal. And, it’s true, he also earns our sympathy in the end because Gallaher brings a certain poignancy, which I’m not sure we’ve seen before. Poppy loves this revelation this time (I think, at the age of five in 2011, she might have missed it!).












Emily Cascarino (Nessarose) and Edward Grey (Boq) are sweet and suddenly strong (and ultimately tragic) in their sub-stories, and the ensemble is top notch. Transitions between scenes and songs are seamless; this show is a well-oiled machine after all!






Wicked has one of the best books in contemporary musical theatre (Book by Winnie Holzman, based on Gregory Maguire’s novel, with Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz), despite some anomalies. I’m with Poppy, who says, “It’s so clever, the way The Wizard of Oz weaves through it and we actually SEE Dorothy, with her two plaits and her bucket of water in the shadows to melt the witch…” (And then, “Poor Elphie. Does Glinda ever find out her friend is not dead? They should tell her. Someone should tell her. And tell her DAD!”).



The last time Poppy experienced Wicked she remembers that the dragon, the winged monkeys, and the shadow segment featuring Dorothy frightened her. “But not this time, because I saw the monkeys moving to their places. They were hiding but we could see them in the set. They were pre-set.” John Frost has always said this is a show for 8 to 80 year olds and he’s right. For younger audience members the themes are a little challenging.



The superb look and sound of the show is thanks to a plum creative team, with costumes by Susan Hilferty, wigs and hair by Tom Watson (Tom, while you’re in town, please stop by our two major theatre companies and help them with their hair. Just some phone numbers will do. Thanks ever so.), lighting by Kenneth Posner, sound by Tony Meola, and musical direction by David Young. AND THAT’S NOT ALL. So fork out for the glossy souvenir program y’all, and read about the amazing people behind the scenes who make the amazing people on stage look and sound their best!





I don’t believe you can ever be disappointed by this show. Unless you’re my dad and you simply don’t like the book or the score. I KNOW. WHAT EVEN… AM I THE DAUGHTER OF A GYPSY PEDDLER?


This Wicked is my fave so far. A polished, pitch-perfect show, it’s no wonder Wicked remains so popular worldwide. It’s highly sophisticated (and hummable!) contemporary musical entertainment for the masses, and it will make your heart sing all the way home and your spirit soar for years to come. You’ll be changed for good.


Images by Jeff Busby