Samantha Leigh Dodemaide is a genuine rising star of the Australian musical theatre scene. Winner of the prestigious Rob Guest Endowment Award in 2013, her stage credits to date include ensemble and understudy roles in Singin’ in the Rain, Anything Goes, Sweet Charity, A Chorus Line and King Kong. In 2015, she wowed audiences playing the title role in Blue Saint Productions’ critically-acclaimed staging of Violet.
And now, at Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre in November, Dodemaide will step onto the stage in the iconic role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, one of the most universally loved films and musicals of all time.
Talking to Theatre People about having won the role, Dodemaide is more than a little excited, particularly when she reflects on the fierce competition she faced.
“Apparently, there were 400 applicants for the role of Dorothy, which just blows my mind,” she says.
“It’s such a testament to our industry, to how many performers there are out there, and it just makes it even more special and I’m even more grateful for the fact that I was chosen to play the role. I’m very lucky.”
For their initial audition, applicants were required to submit a video tape of themselves performing ‘Over the rainbow’.
“It’s very interesting for theatre performers because we’re so used to going into live auditions, and then whatever happens, happens and you can’t take anything back. Having to put it onto a tape means that you get to watch it and pick at it,” she says.
“So I said I’ll only film three and then I’ll choose one of those – otherwise, I could’ve been there all night!”
After a series of live auditions and callbacks, Dodemaide was flown to Melbourne for her final audition.
“It’s very nerve-wracking, especially when you get so close to the end and you’ve developed your version of the character. You become quite attached to them,” she says.
“The wonderful thing about this audition process was that the creative team and the audition panel … really allowed me to create my own version of Dorothy. Of course, they gave their guidance and advice along the way, but really they let me go for it, and I had so much respect for that audition process because of that, and I really felt like the Dorothy that I created was just me.”
Dodemaide reflects on the challenge of stepping into a role made famous by the late Judy Garland almost eight decades ago, and striking the right balance between a portrayal that pays homage while simultaneously making it your own.
“I’m a really big believer in bringing as much of myself to the character as possible,” Dodemaide says. “I will try to give as much respect to what Judy created in Dorothy, but at the same time, I can only be me, so I think that will be a challenge.”
She also mentions the challenge of bringing the character to life eight times a week.
“Whether you’re in the ensemble, whether you’re an understudy, whether you’re out the front leading it … I think eight shows a week never gets easier,” she says.
“When you love what you do, you give it 110% every single show because every audience member [has] paid their money to see a great show, and it’s our responsibility and our job to give it to them.”
It’s been well over a decade since the last full-scale production of The Wizard of Oz toured Australia, and Dodemaide was there.
“The last live production was 16 years ago,” she says. “I remember being a little girl, sitting in the audience watching Nikki Webster play Dorothy.”
The London Palladium production of The Wizard of Oz – the new stage adaptation of the classic story that we’ll be seeing on our stages from November – had its world premiere in London in 2011 and was produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Dodemaide provides an insight into how this production differs from what we’ve seen previously.
“I have read the script and, let me tell you, it’s got some nice twists and turns that I think the audience will be really excited about,” she says. “Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote five new songs for it, which are amazing, and I think they complement what already existed from the 1939 film production very well.”
Dodemaide also says there’s more of a window into characters such as the Wicked Witch, Glinda and The Wizard.
“It’s a bit of an updated, contemporary version of The Wizard of Oz, still paying tribute and honouring the original, but I think making it more accessible to a modern audience. I find the script quite funny,” she adds.
And what about her own character?
“What I love about Dorothy in this version especially is she is a strong, feisty, intelligent and compassionate young lady. When I read the script, I saw so much of the modern female in her.”
To date, only three other cast members of The Wizard of Oz have been revealed: Anthony Warlow will play The Wizard and Professor Marvel, Lucy Durack will play Glinda the Good Witch, and Jemma Rix will take on The Wicked Witch of the West. Dodemaide admires each of her co-stars, and when it comes to Jemma Rix, the two share a history of ‘going green’.
“She was Elphaba [in Wicked] at Universal Studios Japan in the very first year that they did the production, and I joined the cast in the last year,” Dodemaide explains.
Her first exposure to Rix was actually via a recording.
“I was sent a CD of Elphaba singing and speaking so I could have a listen and learn before I started my contract, and I just thought, ‘Who is this woman with this powerhouse voice?’ And it was Jemma. So I’ve really looked up to her a lot, her ability is just unbelievable.”
Dodemaide also discusses why The Wizard of Oz is a great show to return to the Australian stage in 2017.
“This show will never die, this is a classic, and for those who grew up with The Wizard of Oz, it’s so nostalgic and it will take everyone back to their childhood,” she says.
“For those who are experiencing it for the first time, it’s such a beautiful story, and I think it’s a really important story to tell and I think everyone in the audience will be able to connect to it somehow.”
She continues: “I think … that a lot of the time, we think we’re not good enough, we’re not strong enough … and I think this is really just [reinforcing] that whatever you want to achieve, the ability to achieve that lies within you.
“I hope that it will be a really uplifting experience for all of the audience members.”
THE WIZARD OF OZ – SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Lyric Theatre, QPAC
Season: From 4 November
Performance Times: Tues 6.30pm, Wed-Sat 7.30pm, Matinees Tue-Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 1pm & 6pm*
Prices: From $79.90**
Bookings: qpac.com.au or 136 246
Groups 12+ call 07 3840 7466
Venue: Capitol Theatre, Campbell Street, Haymarket
Season: From 30 December
Performance Times: Tues-Sat 7.30pm, Matinees Tues & Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 1pm*
Prices: From $79.90**
Bookings: ticketmaster.com.au or 1300 795 267
Groups 12+ call 1300 889 278
* Performance times vary weekly
** Transaction fees apply