It’s easy to be sceptical about whether you’ll enjoy The Wizard of Oz. Surely, it’s outdated by now. Surely the stage adaptation will be boring. Surely the songs have been done to death.
Thankfully, that scepticism at this “new” (made in 2011) production of The Wizard of Oz isn’t needed. It’s been updated and fleshed out with a few new rich songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice that allow each character to shine. Not only this, it’s been brought into a more modern time, delivering a wholesome yet delightful show to the stage. And it’s allowed the timeless story to remain intact, merely enhanced.
Master of his craft, Anthony Warlow is spectacular to watch. As Professor Marvel and The Wizard, he brings out the depth and sincerity of the characters. Warlow is a powerful presence in both roles – for opposing reasons – and it’s a joy to watch the younger actors perform with the esteemed performer. It’s difficult to describe exactly what it is that Warlow brings to the stage, except that it’s exciting, inspirational and wholeheartedly good. Warlow delivers yet another performance sure to stick with you for years to come.
The two witches are amusingly sassy and share great moments. Lucy Durack and Jemma Rix reunited with each other and their respective roles, after performing these witch’s backstories in Wicked. While Glinda the Good more or less continues on Wicked’s trajectory, the Wicked Witch of the West has definitely lost the well-rounded manner of Elphaba, and Rix’s Witch is deliciously cruel.
The happiness that exudes from Durack is infectious. The warmth she projects during “Already Home” makes for a heartfelt moment, building to the emotional climax of the show. Jemma Rix’s fleeting but great moment to soar in “Red Shoe Blues” is marvellous. Her sneering Wicked Witch cackles and taunts with such glee, she seems larger than life in this role.
As her first lead role in a major musical, Samantha Dodemaide plays an earnest Dorothy and the character’s innocence is endearing and grabs hold of your heartstrings immediately. Her sweet vocal tone and genuineness let you fall in love with her and feel what she feels. Dodemaide was exceptionally well cast to take the audience on Dorothy’s journey.
Dorothy’s trio of friends all have very physically demanding roles. Eli Cooper is impeccably deft as Scarecrow, with his performance being one of the main things that had people talking in the interval and afterwards. Cooper fills this role expertly with brilliant physicality and comedic timing. Alex Rathgeber’s tap number as Tin Man is impressive in such a restrictive costume and brings a sweet charm to his emotionally “heartless” character. John Xintavelonis’ cowardly Lion has taken quite the modern leap in this production, and Xintavelonis plays up the humour in this not-so-ferocious character very well.
Of course, what is The Wizard of Oz without Toto? Trouble and Flick share the role and you may just find yourself a bit distracted by their performance. They spend a lot of time on stage and are immaculately well-trained.
Kansas is brought to its drab life in sepia tone, with sparse set pieces and washed-out costumes. This makes the transformation to the full, lush world of Oz even greater. The ensemble is slick and Arlene Phillips’ choreography is extraordinary. The costumes bring out the bright colours of Oz – blues, reds and greens depending on the setting – and make it a real visual feast. With many significant quick changes, it’s a stellar technical feat too.
Projections and visuals are used to bring things like the tornado or the giant Wizard of Oz to life. They’re stunning and executed incredibly well, using screens to allow for cleverly timed set changes. It’s an immersive experience, with lighting even filling out the auditorium at times. Audience members can feel like they join Dorothy as she’s transported to Oz and really do get sucked into the world Jeremy Sams has adapted. The songs you know and love are combined with new ones, all accompanied by luscious live music.
The Wizard of Oz remains a family-favourite stage hit. It’s sure to bring joy and wonder to all who visit. With such an incredible cast and the vibrant set, it’s the perfect platform to help your family fall in love with musicals. Don’t be surprised if you end up craving a return visit!
The Wizard of Oz is on at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre from 12 May 2018.
Photos by Jeff Busby