Posts Tagged ‘the wizard of oz


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.



The Wizard of Oz


The Wizard of Oz

Matthew Flinders Anglican College

Flinders Performance Centre

May 21 – 23 2015


Reviewed by Rhys M Becks






Matthew Flinders Anglican College delivered a spectacular rendition of The Wizard of Oz.


Seated waiting for the show to begin, there was a monumental air of suspense, so great I felt like crying. The band began to blast a majestic tune and everyone was happy and excited. This for me is the true meaning of theatre. To be drawn away from the tribulations of daily life into another world. The lights dimmed and the band continued, as Dorothy (Rebecca Rolle) burst through door two of the theatre, breaking the the fourth wall in the best possible way, drawing us into the story immediately.


Miss Rolle most definitely stole the show with her breathtaking vocals and physical ability. It was remarkable how much Miss Rolle’s Voice matched that of Miss Judy Garland. If one were to close their eyes during the performance, they would feel as though they were watching an improved version of the motion picture. Having watched Miss Rolle’s last production year, I expected nothing short of a professional performance, and my goodness, she certainly delivered.


Then there was Jackson Reedman (Scarecrow). I must say that this was the sassiest portrayal of the scarecrow I have ever seen. But I liked it, because despite it being an unconventional portrayal, it worked. Mr Reedman put a fresh twist on the role and put a lot of self into it without making a mockery of the character. I do not know if the sass was intended, but it was there. I loved how Mr Reedman assumed the posture of the scarecrow, and how in movement he was not tense yet unstable, and a little bit floppy. This aided him in making us believe that he was truly a scarecrow. Mr Reedman has a lovely classic broadway type of belt, which is all well and good. Yet at times (not very often) the clarity of a lyric was lost.


Mr Reedman has a decent stage presence. During the show that I attended, at the end of the scene where Dorothy and the scarecrow are tormenting the trees for their apples, Toto (Nala Rolle, an actual dog) was not ready in the wings for her cue. Mr Reedman saves the day by inquiring, “Dorothy where is your dog?” To which she replies, “Over there!” He continues, “Where? Oh never mind, we don’t need him anyway!”






STOP PRESS! Jackson Reedman is off to do musical theatre at AMDA!



The scene continued, and Dorothy made acquaintance with the Tin-Man.


Henry Jeaffreson gave an accurate representation of the Tin-Man. He delivered lines and vocals with perfect clarity. He gave a delightful tap dance every so often. He was choppy in his movement, which made him seem more mechanical, therefore we believed that he was made of tin. The Tin-Man was made to be a passive character more so than the scarecrow  at least, yet not as passive as the Cowardly Lion. He makes us feel sympathy by emphasising the fact that he has no heart. Mr Jeaffreson did this very well without making it obvious. He did not stand out massively for me. This may or may not have been done on purpose.


I feel the same way about William Smith. Mr Smith performed a decent rendition of the Cowardly Lion. His speech was as clear as day, yet his singing was at times a little disjointed by perhaps his lack of breath. Yet his clarity of speech and movement made up for this. He appeared to be cuddly and generally quite soppy, which is precisely the character of the Cowardly Lion.


The lighting and sound were phenomenal. The school also utilised the projector in such a manner that it did not lower the excellence of the show, by becoming a distraction. The transitions between scenes were smooth, practical and visually pleasing, largely due to a purpose built revolve. My favorite transition was during the tornado when Dorothy was standing inside the farmhouse, pressed against its walls in shock, as the house is spun around by stage hands in theatre blacks.


The band in the pit was absolutely astounding, I have never in my life heard a student band play so professionally.


All these performers working together as a collective gave a sterling performance. For a student production the calibre was high. I now have high expectations for the next production year. Yet unfortunately these brilliant aforementioned performers will not be attending the college by then, as this is their senior year.


Overall the show was wonderfully performed, and people of all ages (11-18) worked together very nicely, with a marvellous, dazzling end result.





Rhys M Becks attends MFAC (Year 10). You can see the show he’s producing with Humming Bird Media in October at Matthew Flinders Anglican College.

Tickets on sale in September 2015.






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



Brisbane Festival: The Wizard of Oz


The Wizard of Oz
Presented by La Boite, The Danger Ensemble & Brisbane Festival
Roundhouse Theatre
7 – 28 of September 2013


Reviewed by Guy Frawley



Image by Morgan Roberts



The Wizard of Oz is not so much a modern retelling of the classic story as an entirely new piece of theatre that has borrowed extensively from the L. Frank Baum novel and MGM film of the same name. There’s Dorothy and Toto and even a yellow brick road, but this story as created by Maxine Mellor in the world premiere of her new play, is definitely not the tale you were raised with.


In a saccharine coloured fantasy land the cast and crew bring to life Mellor’s gaudy fantasy, with Margi Brown Ash taking the spotlight as ‘Judy, Goddamnit!’. Brown Ash revels in the role and gives a diva worthy layered performance. Judy Garland, an aged Dorothy, a mentally ill mother, a faded remnant of a star attempting to claw her way back to her halcyon days. Much of the humour in The Wizard of Oz is dependent on Judy G, and Brown Ash carries this easily; her sense of timing and characterisation is spot on and I enjoyed watching her immensely.


Polly Sara’s Wicked Witch of the West presents us a refreshed version of the classic MGM Wicked Witch who appears to have just flown in on her broomstick after a sojourn at the Haus of Gaga. Her performance crackled with a vicious darkness that balanced the obvious camp sensibilities of such a role. Sara also provided the performance with two of its musical numbers, the first of which became a part of the tornado carrying Judy G to Oz and was utilised to great effect. Sara’s voice is powerful and sonorous and set the tone for the rest of her performance. Her second number, Regina Spektor’s All the Rowboats, whilst sung well didn’t seem to have any point.


Steven Mitchell Wright as director, presents us with a hyper stylised, fluro-coloured Land of Oz for his players to inhabit. His use of the space, from the moment the audience enters the theatre through the set to the inward facing finale, was excellent and helped to create an aesthetic akin to a pop-up book on acid. This same sense of psychedelic reality is found throughout the performance and not always to the show’s benefit.


Certain directorial choices (some of the musical numbers, an explosive vomiting scene, a blow up sex doll) offer style and pizazz but at the expense of purpose or meaning.


I do wonder how much of this was done on purpose though, one of the central parts of The Wizard of Oz show the Wicked Witch and the Wizard atop a platform (pulpit? throne room?) engaged in a duologue devised to philosophy. The more you hear though, the more you start to wonder platitude or profundity? Are these snippets of deep wisdom or did I read that last week on a Pinterest inspiration board?


The performances from Thomas Larkin (Scarecrow), Thomas Hutchins (Tin Man) and Lucy-Ann Langkilde (Lion) bubbled with energy and life. The physicality of their performances added colour, however there were times when their squealing portrayal of excitable children strayed into grating caricature. They work brilliantly as a team together, shuffling through several different roles each and always maintaining the sense of a cohesive unit. As the story progresses this adds immensely to the growing sense of paranoia and disconnectedness as Judy G begins to realise all is not as she initially believed.


Special mention must go to Simone Romaniuk for the set and costume design and to Ben Hughes for his lighting design. The sets and costumes bring the story to life in a technicolour assault to your senses. The lighting design is equally dazzling, never more so than during the tornado scene when the effects used to create the vortex were quite impressive.


There was so much to enjoy in this new work. Maxine Mellor has created an entertaining script that offers itself up to the cast and begs for big performances. The playful way that Mellor has used the familiar Oz-ian story blended with shades of Judy Garland’s personal demons (including her relationship with daughter, Liza Minnelli), provides a script ripe with allegory and layered meaning. Yet I was left wanting as the house lights went up. The performance maintained an ever growing miasma of foreboding that intensified the further Judy G moved towards her story book ending. However when the final blood, angst and guilt ridden finale arrived, the script’s handling of the plot and meaning began to unravel faster than Judy’s mental state.


The Wizard of Oz at times struggled when Style and Substance were forced to battle it out with each other for dominance, but it is a thoroughly entertaining show. The cast give a wonderfully frenzied performance and whilst I’ve noted my criticism with Mellor’s script, on the whole I loved her work. This is an exciting world premiere piece and if you have any room left in your Brisbane Festival schedule you’d do well to make the trip to The Roundhouse to see it.




End of the Rainbow

End of the Rainbow

Queensland Theatre Company & Queensland Performing Arts Centre

QPAC Playhouse

2nd March – 24th March 2013


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


Christen O’Leary is the gold at the End of the Rainbow

Christen O’Leary effortlessly channels Judy Garland in the first 2013 co-production between Queensland Theatre Company and Queensland Performing Arts Centre. It’s a perfect vehicle for O’Leary, showcasing her superior vocal and acting ability, and her solid commitment to character, of which we saw glimpses in Bombshells last year.


Christen O'Leary & Hayden Spencer

Christen O’Leary & Hayden Spencer.

Peter Quilter’s play doesn’t give a lot of scope for the men in End of the Rainbow to achieve the same impressive heights, though Anthony Standish as Garland’s fifth and final husband (and her manager), Mickey, and Hayden Spencer as her pianist and best friend, Anthony, do all they can with what they’ve been given, and they are just enough, beautifully balanced in their opposing strategies and differing sensibilities, to help Judy rid herself of her demons.


The story is Garland’s tragedy and the star is O’Leary. She delivers the ruined performer’s weary words, “I gave them everything. There’s nothing left…” (and the pitch, pause and intonation in songs and speech is spot on, thanks in part to the work of Voice and Dialect Consultant, Melissa Agnew), with all the vulnerability of an actor who imagines she might feel the same way one day.


This is the most honest, and the most heartbreakingly damaged embodiment of Judy Garland we are likely to see outside of Bernadette Robinson’s outstanding performance in Songs for Nobodies. Given the tough gig of becoming Judy (we think we know her so well!) for a little over two hours, O’Leary ably switches between the competent, sassy, manipulative and mischievous imp, and the depressed, aggressive, desperate addict. The end of Act 1 comes crashing to a close, and the end of the show is desperately sad, until a curtain call lifts our spirits and reminds us that Judy is a legend, she is immortal, forever caught on celluloid, and sadly, like Elvis, Marilyn, MJ and so many more, along with Superman’s arch enemies, she appears trapped in The Phantom Zone, or the prism, and lost in space and time for our benefit. (Baz McAlister’s program notes are well worth the read at this point, at some stage during the twenty-minute interval anyway, if you didn’t get to them over pre-show drinks and tapas. It would be terrific to see these included on the production page of the website).


Anthony Standish & Christen O'Leary

Anthony Standish & Christen O’Leary.

But the time is 1968 and the space is, on one side of a clever revolve, Garland’s elegant suite in London’s Ritz Hotel, and on the other, the stage she inhabits during her final performances. The set is Bill Haycock’s inspired design and perfectly complementing it is David Walters’ sumptuous lighting. With the interesting addition of projected images by Tim Roane, of blossoming flowers and, during a poignant moment late in the piece, the face of Garland’s fiancé, we see far below the seemingly impenetrable surface of Judy, superstar and living legend. We see what gets under her skin, and (it’s a chilling effect) we hear the sounds of the Munchkins’ voices, contextualising perfectly the memories and forced habits of a child star who never had her childhood, and who never really grew up.



O’Leary’s Ritalin-induced manic performance finally brought the tears to my eyes; they’d been threatening to slide slowly, surreptitiously down my cheeks but the show had been, strangely, so funny, as well as being terribly sad. From the outset I had felt deep despair for this tragic, delicate figure, before finding myself laughing out loud at some outrageous comment or other made by the Judy who always got what she wanted, including the drugs that eventually killed her.  No use reaching for tissues yet though, because Quilty has included Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which O’Leary delivers longingly from behind the scrim, in her immortality, causing me to look up at lights and continue to blink away tears.

“It’s a terrible thing to know what you’re capable of…and to never get there.”


So Quilter successfully takes us on Garland’s final five-week roller coaster ride, but not without the help of (O’Leary’s husband) Andrew McNaughton’s adept musical direction and the gentle guidance of Director, David Bell, whose attention to detail rivals only O’Leary’s; together they leave nothing undone. Bell says of O’Leary, “Her performance, while underpinned by meticulous research and an eye for fine detail, is astonishingly brave and painfully human. Her Judy is not a legend but a human being.” And this is why she is able to move us beyond tears and back to rapturous applause – a deserved standing ovation on opening night – because this Judy knows the show must go on. It’s all she has. We believe it because we feel that O’Leary has raised the stakes that high.


Christen O'LearyEnd of the Rainbow is somehow the most joyous evening of true-life tragedy you’ll experience this year. It’s theatre making at its best, achieving the perfect balance of fact and fiction, triumphant success and dire failure, addiction, confusion and ultimately, a joy so spectacular your heart will fill to bursting and you’ll leave the theatre feeling like you’ve had a drink with a legend, and held the hand of the same dear friend. Whether or not you’re a Judy Garland fan, I guarantee you’ll feel her pain, marvel at her incredible talent and determination, and wonder how we can sit still and watch in awe and horror as our favourite stars, to this day, destroy themselves in front of our eyes.


End of the Rainbow closes on March 24th and I hope the short season is indication that the show will hit the road…because this baby’s got legs!







the wizard of oz – harvest rain theatre company

The Wizard of Oz

Harvest Rain Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

10.02.12 – 19.02.12

Image by Trent Rouillon

Tim O’Connor, CEO & Artistic Director of Harvest Rain Theatre Company and Director of their latest musical, The Wizard of Oz, wanted more than anything else, to put the classic (1939) film on the Playhouse stage. And I think he’s done it. This is a glorious production, of considerable scale, which far surpasses anything I’ve seen staged by Harvest Rain. I’ve noted previously that family entertainment is this company’s specialty and in this production we have it in abundance. The ideal choice for this group, showcasing all their strengths, O’Connor has assembled superb leads, a fabulous ensemble and an adorable children’s chorus. And then of course there’s the creative team, who have finally found a way to get the creative juices flowing in the same direction.

Even more impressive is that I attended the final preview performance before opening night. It was the slickest preview EVER. When a company’s history is a little hit and miss, and I’ve always been honest about their misses, I’ve gottta lay on the love when they get it right. So here’s a whole lotta love for a large-scale musical production that you really shouldn’t miss.

Image by Trent Rouillon

Over the years, Harvest Rain’s has become a tight-knit little creative team. They used to not play so well together and we would see conflicting or unfinished ideas instead of a completed, melded and polished product. Now I wouldn’t dream of separating them. A couple of them come and go (they are regularly invited to play with the big boys) and the experience must be informing what they’re doing when they return to Harvest Rain to work.

They are:

Tim O’Connor – Director/Producer

Callum Mansfield – Choreographer

Maitlohn Drew – Music Director

Josh McIntosh – Set & Costume Designer

Jason Glenwright – Lighting Designer

Reilly Case – Stage/Production Manager

Sophie Woodward – Vocal Director

The Wizard of Oz, based on Frank L. Baum’s book, with music and lyrics based on the MGM motion picture score by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg (background music by Herbert Stothart) and adapted by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company, is truly timeless. O’Connor has imbued this production with his long-held love for the story, its characters and for that place beyond the rainbow.

McIntosh has designed starkly contrasting sets, complemented by Glenwright’s evocative lighting. The mood is set before we see any of it with the orchestra’s stirring overture. Under the competent baton of MD Drew, this old-school opening allows us to sit back and see our own images, our own memories of the much-loved film. Paired with the full sound of the orchestra, the vocal arrangements make this a nostalgic experience for the young at heart before the curtain is up.

It opens on the dreary, dusty hues of the Gale family’s Kansas farm (remember the first time you saw The Wizard of Oz and tried to fix the colour on the TV?) Far from the dull daily chores of rural life in Kansas, we are taken on a trip through a strange, strobe-lit twister moment; it’s a rather long one and it’s the only questionable moment in the entire show, all enormous flag waving, which doesn’t really work, however, I could feel that others in the audience, including the five year old, Poppy, enjoyed it, in an anticipatory, storm-comin’ kinda way. We are taken, with Dorothy Gale and little Toto (too cute) to a place beyond the rainbow and into Munchinland, complete with painted houses and the adorable children’s chorus as the inhabitants. The children do a terrific job as Munchkins. They are well rehearsed and present themselves confidently and professionally. And suddenly, it’s in Technicolor that we feel the show starts. Dana Musil warms on me and I try to ignore that somebody must have told her to be as Garland as she likes. It works for the singing (her singing is gorgeous) but not so much for her spoken lines, which might be lost at times to those unfamiliar with the script. I appreciate the efforts towards achieving a certain level of authenticity within the context but I need to hear clear speech. And, having noted the efforts towards “authenticity”, I would love to have seen an original take on Dorothy, as we saw with the travelling companions. We’ll get to them in a minute.

Image by Trent Rouillon

Angela Harding is a beautiful Glinda and presents as a possible Galinda, should the opportunity arise. The woman is versatile and I look forward to seeing her solo show later this year. Her antithesis and Dorothy’s nemesis, the Wicked Witch of the West, is Penny Farrow at her most diabolical. Maniacal cackles, well-timed one-liners and beautiful big movement give this witch the right balance of nasty and comedy. Having seen Wicked, Poppy reminded me that the green witch is not as nasty as everybody thinks but is misunderstood. She has been teased for so long that sometimes she just can’t help how she responds to people. Also, she doesn’t melt and die; she’s living with Fiyero in the field under the stage. For young Wicked fans, this show is indeed a sequel.

Image by Trent Rouillon

I hope for HR’s sake, the newcomers (and by newcomers I mean newcomers to HR, not to the stage), Dan Venz (the tap dancing, debonair Tinman) and Matty Johnson (Lion) have signed a contract to stay  – or at least to return whenever required – because these guys give wonderful performances that have helped to raise the standard of the show overall. If I Were King of the Forest is a song that, in the film, is misplaced and so slow I would rather skip it but Johnson performs it with a sassy Rum Tum Tugger type attitude to suit any cabaret club or morning television show (somebody tell DC)! He’s no Ray Bolger but Shaun Kolman is a delightful scarecrow, bringing lightness and tenderness to the character’s comedy and choreography. Steven Tandy is the wonderful Wizard of Oz and on stage, he certainly lives up to his character’s reputation, giving us a wonderful combination of emotions as the wise, lost man who is so very loved in a place he can’t call home. It’s a touching performance from one of our favourite Brisbane actor/directors. I’m enjoying working with Mr Tandy in Noosa, on David Williamson’s Travelling North, which opens in April.

Image by Trent Rouillon

Special mention must go to Grant Couchman, who is a firm Uncle Henry to Kathryn Dunstan’s gentle-ish Aunt Em. It’s as the Guard at the gate of the Emerald City that we enjoy Couchman’s easy comic ability and his is another performance you can look forward to.

With spot on vocals and energetic dance numbers, the 25 strong ensemble provides additional colour, energy and laughs. They are, thanks to McIntosh and a sizeable costume construction team, superbly dressed. In a scene that need only incorporate a sweeping staircase to be mistaken for the Folies Begere, we get a hint of the high fashion to come, admiring Dior inspired hats and reversible opera cloaks before getting the full picture, which is very Vogue indeed, inside the walls of the gloriously lit Emerald City.

By Trent Rouillon

The Wizard of Oz is a spectacular show that doesn’t disappoint and importantly for me, it’s the show that has earned Harvest Rain their place in the Playhouse. If you’ve not been a HR supporter before now, expect to be converted.

Image by Rebecca Green