We're off to see the….

Well, you should know how it goes!

Our friends at Harvest Rain Theatre Company; by and away Brisbane's most prolific and powerful musical theatre engine, invited us to come to a select call for the press at Brisbane's Playhouse at QPAC.

Walking through the labyrinthine underbelly of QPAC, the adrenaline building towards Saturday night's opening night performance was almost palpable as we entered the Playhouse through the wings and onto the stage, the orchestra pit filling and tuning, scene, sound effects, lighting and costumes all still in a state of busy preparation around us.

They offered us in the press a very short preview of the magic that will unfold when Brisbane audiences will be blown away by the The Wizard of Oz. A short song and dance was performed in costume and with part of the set. I was stunned and tantalized by what little we saw, but I promised myself I wouldn't reveal many of the details other than to say; if you haven't booked your ticket to embark on the journey with Dorothy, Toto, Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion to the Emerald City, then do yourself a favour and book now. http://www.harvestrain.com.au/01_cms/details.asp?ID=1584

In the meantime I caught up with Harvest Rain artistic director and director of The Wizard of OZ, Tim O'Connor:


  1.  So… another musical at the same time that "Mary Poppins" on is next door?

    HAHA {Laughs} Yes… what's your question?

  2.   Is it intentional?

    {Laughs} Yes, look, we have always done a show at this time up against other shows, like we were up against Wicked last year and a flood too! And it's never been terrifying and it's never been a problem. Mary Poppins is a juggernaut! It's really scary doing a show up against Poppins because she's so popular but The Wizard of Oz is turning out to be as popular and it's funny sharing the corridors with the Poppins crew. Their crazy costumes and our crazy costumes, they're all dressed as statues and we're all dressed as munchkins… there's a lot of fantasy right now at QPAC. It's been an interesting challenge to go up against 'the flying nanny'.


  3.   Because this is the… OTHER greatly loved childhood musical. If it's not that one, it's this one.

    {Laughs} Yeah! Yeah! Isn't it, it's funny to have the two of them here at the same time. I think, well, we knew Poppins was going to be here at the same time and we were very conscious of that, like we thought well this is our slot, well then we have to choose something that can match it and I think this was a wise choice and for us, this is the biggest show we've ever staged in terms of sets and costumes but also it's the biggest show that's ever gone in the Playhouse, which everyone here is telling me, all the techs are telling me… this show is massive. It's really huge. So I think people who go and see Poppins will come and see this, will be really thrilled with the scope of it.

  4.    So there are a couple of very familiar faces in the program, true, through and through Harvest  Rain talent coming back and back again?

    Yeah we kind of have a mix. There's a few people here who have never done a show with us before like Matty Johnston who is playing "The Lion" , he's completely new to the company. Dan Venz who plays "The Tinman" we've never worked with him before. But then Sean Kohlman who when "Judas" broke his leg in "Superstar" Sean stepped in, so Sean's there. Dana who plays Dorothy is one of our interns, she's been doing our internship program. Ange Harding who is playing "Glinda" has done a ton of shows with us. So it's a really nice mix of some old faces and some new faces.

  5.   And some very, very young faces! How's that famous line, that rule from showbiz go?

    {Laughs} Oh my,  yes, There's fifty children. Two casts of twenty-five. You know what, I really love the kids, they're the most delightful children, I really love them but it is a real challenge working with kids because they don't necessarily have the understanding of theatre stuff. A lot of these kids have never been to see the theatre, let alone been in the theatre, so it's a really new experience for them trying to teach them not to fall in the orchestra pit and not to get hit on the head by things flying in and stuff, that's a challenge. You have to break it down and be explicit when you explain stuff but it's great I think they bring a really nice energy to the show.


  6.   Are they the next…next generation of Harvest Rain interns?

    {Laughs} They very well could be. A lot of them are really talented kids and I guess we'll wait and see what happens in the next five or ten years. Some of them are only eight years old.


  7.   The last time we spoke, you spoke extensively how important training is at Harvest Rain. To have kids this young really starting their training must be a pretty important thing?

    Well, that's the point. If you're in musical theatre and you want to be a dancer or a singer in particular you have to start young. Sometimes you can pick up dancing at seventeen and be okay, but really it's all about getting as much training as you can get and we at Harvest Rain try to be a place where you can be an eight year old and you can come and get that training and then move on through all the internship programs and all that sort of stuff.


  8.   So we had the Giant Peach. This is another impressive looking set, I guess I'm not seeing the totality of it right now but I'm guessing it gets a lot bigger.

    I'll tell you what you're seeing is about five percent of the total. If you take a look up into the rig you'll see the rest of it up there and a lot of it is in the wings. It's really massive. The giant peach was giant, huge. But the Giant Peach was like a walk in the park compared to this show. It's so much set and so complicated and it's really full on. It's more full-on than any of us really expected to be when it started. It's all working , it's exciting.


  9.   I guess unlike Mary Poppins , in this show you have to totally create the world. It doesn't take place in our world, does it?

    No, it doesn't. And I think the difficult thing is and I guess in the same way as Poppins, people have a really clear idea of what they want to see, they know what Dorothy looks like and they have all their expectations so you kind of have to stick to that. We couldn't do Munchkinland on a black set, it's fantasy, so you have to give them what they're thinking of. So that's where the set comes from because we've got to build Emerald City, a corn field, a forest, a witch's castle, Kansas, there's so many different sets. There really are quite a few different locations. Pretty much the set changes every four or five minutes of the show to a completely different set and this building has never had such a workout. It's pushing the Playhouse to its absolute limit.


  10.   The Wizard of OZ doesn't have much of a history of being performed in Brisbane, does it?

    Not that I'm aware of. I know that Bert Newton came through and Nikki Webster played Dorothy a few years ago in the Lyric Theatre. They weren't from here though. I don't know if I've really seen a local production of it, certainly recently. Now that I've done it I know why because to do it well it's expensive and it's complicated. This is the most expensive show we've ever done as well, so now I get it. I know why you won't see The Wizard of OZ very often because it's got a very complicated stage.


  11.   So when you say people are coming with their preconceived notions of what The Wizard of OZ is, are you going to tick all their boxes?

    I think so. That was my main concern to be honest. We've kind of met in the middle. I'm a real passionate The Wizard of OZ movie fan. Josh, our designer is not. And he was on the side of 'let's do crazy things' and I was on the side of 'let's stick to what people expect" so together we came up with something that is what you expect but perhaps a little to the right or left of that too. So you can see there's a fresh idea in there, but you know, the Lion still looks like a Lion and so on and so forth. Watching this show come to life on stage was one of the most special moments from my childhood, I remember seeing it and it was probably the turning point that got me interested in theatre, I thought I want to be part of that, be part of that magic. I think it's going to be something special for the audience, for kids in particular, but for anyone with a love of that movie.


  12.  And the orchestra is down there, the score will be performed live, all the music is live. Many people will have never heard it live, will they?

    It's all performed live! That gives me real joy. That gives me a real thrill to hear the overture, and it's the overture from the film, I get tears every time. It's an eighteen-piece orchestra playing it like from the film. I think there's a real buzz to that, particularly if you're a fan of the film. In film they have the opportunity to record the score separately, but this is all happening live in front of your eyes and I think that's the magic of theatre, knowing everything that is going on is literally happening right there and then and there's always that threat of, "oh something could go wrong!"  I think that's what we love about theatre that there is this thing happening in front of you and you're with it, you're in it, you're part of it.


  13.    So it's a very atmospheric play. There are some very awesome moments, some very terrifying and joyous moments. Which ones have translated to live theatre really well?

    I think the first one is when the witch melts, that's a big iconic moment of how to do that and I feel proud of how we've achieved that. I think it's exactly what you expect and more. I love the twister, the great thing about the twister, is in the film you're watching the twister but in here we have surround sound so it happens all around you and there's smoke machines and fans and all sorts of things so the audience is in the middle of the twister. So there's things like that which weren't in the film which we can create on stage to create that feeling of involvement. It's immersive, absolutely. I wanted to give the audience the whole sensory experience because I thought, well, you can watch the film on DVD what's the difference in coming here? The difference is you feel it. There's lots of sequences where the cast are in the audience, the witch appears in the audience which will scare the pants off the children, I'm sure and some of the adults!  You're right in it! That's the magic of it. The television is safe, in the theatre it's not so safe.


  14.   This play has some of the most loved and hated characters ever depicted and iconic too. How have the actors approached this? Have they enjoyed it?

    They have enjoyed it! You know, it's interesting. With Dana playing Dorothy I said to her at the start; " Judy Garland is Dorothy, people want to see Judy Garland, build it from the ground up but your job is to give them Judy Garland"  it's a strange request and it's the only role I can think of where I have said "do it like the film" but it's such a strong expectation. Having said that, she is so divine as Dorothy and she channels Judy Garland. All have them have enjoyed it. I know Penny who plays the Wicked Witch has really enjoyed discovering the Witch and in our show we've kind of based her on Bellatrix Lestrange from Harry Potter so she's a bit different, but she's still green and we've still looked at the film. So we've referred to the film and taken some other ideas. When people talk about witches and wizards they think Harry Potter, there's a new set of wizards out there, but this is the original witch and wizard.  I tried to gel those ideas. The real focus was fun, I wanted the audience to have a magical night at the theatre. It's not a big thinker, a show like Jesus Christ Superstar a year ago was like "ahhh my head hurts' but this is a no brainer, it's really just a joy to be a part of.


  15.    Do you think it does have deeper messages? It's one of the most discussed pieces of fantasy, isn't it?

    You know it's funny you mention that. One of the cast brought in this book which uses the play to psychoanalyze people. Are you the tin man, are you the lion and so forth. So it is a lot deeper than it reads at face value But I think it's one of those things you can read into it if you want or you can check your brain at the door and just enjoy the wonder and fantasy of it all. It's multi-layered like that.


  16.   Is it targeted at children? Adults?

    I think both. I think children will love it, they will be scared by it and have all those wonderful experiences that you have. I think adults will love it. I think anyone that's ever enjoyed that film or ever enjoyed getting lost in a great fantasy will absolutely adore this.  On top of that, if you're a musical theatre lover, this is it, this is one of the musical theatre ''Meccas" of being able to sing "Somewhere over the rainbow" on stage, that's pretty full on. There's something for everyone.


  17.   Are you the Wizard of OZ?

    {Laughs} Am I the Wizard of OZ? Am I? I feel a little bit like a mastermind sometimes with and I said this the other day, I find myself, like I am now, just sort of sitting and not doing very much but it's my ideas that have spurred on everyone else's creativity. I feel like the man pulling the strings. This guy behind a curtain and what the audience see is this huge thing. It's a lot like that. It is a huge thing and I feel like I sit at the top of this pile of incredibly creative people who are working so hard to bring all of this together. And sometimes I do feel like I want to escape in a hot air balloon! But it is such a lovely experience working on this show!



For Bookings and More Information including behind the scenes sneak peaks visit http://www.harvestrain.com.au

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