While Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo are among the motion pictures frequently lauded by critics as the greatest of all time, it is difficult to name a film that has won the deep affection of the public over several generations in the way in which Victor Fleming’s 1939 classic, The Wizard of Oz, has done.
Unsurprisingly, both the film and the 1900 L. Frank Baum novel on which it is based have spawned many stage shows over the years, including musical theatre adaptations. The production of The Wizard of Oz that has just landed at the Capitol Theatre is an adaptation by Andrew Lloyd Webber and British theatre director Jeremy Sams (who has also assumed directorial duties). It premiered at the London Palladium Theatre in 2011 and has since toured North America.
The story told in Lloyd Webber’s production is largely faithful to the film. Dorothy (Samantha Dodemaide) yearns for a more exciting life than the one she lives on a Kansas farm and, following a powerful twister, finds herself in the land of Oz. She travels to the Emerald City to seek the help of The Wizard of Oz (Anthony Warlow) to return home and, on the journey, encounters Scarecrow (Eli Cooper), Tin Man (Alex Rathgeber), and Lion (John Xintavelonis), and is forced to overcome the Wicked Witch of the West (Jemma Rix).
Most of the Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg-penned songs that appeared in the film are included here, alongside new tracks by Lloyd Webber and long-time collaborator Tim Rice. It’s a necessary exercise in shaping The Wizard of Oz into a full-stage musical, given the film contains only a handful of songs.
Sams’ direction ensures this iteration of The Wizard of Oz is largely loyal to the much-loved movie, while coalescing the well-known with a few fresh touches (such as the new songs and some different dialogue). Fans of the film will likely be satisfied because there’s not much here otherwise that’s been revamped. This is a story that retains its relevance because of the broad brushstrokes of its central themes. At its core are the sanctity of home; the importance of finding inner-strength to deal with the woes of the world; and realising that, sometimes, what we are looking for is right in front of us.
This production of The Wizard of Oz features a fine cast. In her first mainstage leading role, Dodemaide is delightful as the young Dorothy. Her crystal clear soprano is lovely, particularly in the iconic ‘Over the rainbow’. Dodemaide brings a believable naivety to her portrayal and she’s sweet and endearing from the outset.
Rix may have already chalked up over 1,200 performances playing the Wicked Witch of the West in another musical, but her character here is far removed from Wicked’s misunderstood Elphaba. This witch has only bad intentions, and Rix delivers a terrifically sassy and spiteful character. While on film, Margaret Hamilton’s witch is an entirely spoken role, a new Lloyd Webber and Rice number, ‘Red Shoes Blues’, affords Rix the opportunity to showcase her dynamo vocals at the top of the second act.
Rix’s co-star, Lucy Durack, channels her well-loved Wicked character, reprising the role of Glinda, The Good Witch; Cooper’s supreme skills as a dancer are on show with his impressively lithe portrayal of Scarecrow; Rathgeber’s Tin Man is warm and gives us glimpses of his great tenor and tap dance ability; and Xintavelonis’ Lion is comical, energetic and entertaining. In their brief appearances, Sophie Weiss and Paul Hanlon are strong in the roles of Aunt Em and Uncle Henry.
Despite having only limited stage time, Warlow as the title character and Professor Marvel makes an indelible impression, elevating the impact of these supporting characters. One of the best musical theatre actors in this country, Warlow’s ruler of Oz and his portrayal of the inept unmasked Wizard is wonderful, with no single gesture nor facial expression out of place. As Professor Marvel performing ‘Wonders of the World’, attempting to educate Dorothy about what the world has to offer, Warlow also makes his mark. The star quality he brings is undeniable.
It seems impossible not to mention Trouble the dog, who appears here as Toto. This Australian Terrier may well distract your attention away from his human co-stars more than once during the show!
On the design front, Robert Jones’ deference to the iconic visuals of the 1939 film is evident from the get go. The dull, sepia-toned world of Kansas depicted in the initial scenes is an apt nod to the film’s opening minutes, while the vibrant palette in the scenes that follow is almost as it was in Fleming’s technicoloured Oz. The art deco-inspired Emerald City and the Wicked Witch’s gothic castle are standout pieces. Meanwhile, Jones’ plush costumes pay homage to designer Adrian’s creations for the film, ensuring all characters are instantly recognisable. Additionally, Jon Driscoll’s and Daniel Brodie’s projections generate marvellous visual effects, particularly for the twister’s arrival in Kansas and upheaval of Dorothy and the house to Oz.
While it doesn’t move the well-known story into unchartered territory, Lloyd Webber’s production is an entertaining and visually spectacular rendering of The Wizard of Oz. It’s a great way to introduce children to the world of musical theatre and the magic it has to offer.
THE WIZARD OF OZ – SYDNEY SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Capitol Theatre, Campbell Street, Haymarket
Season: Until 4 February
Performance Times: Tues-Sat 7.30pm, Matinees Tues & Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 1pm*
Prices: From $49.90**
Bookings: ticketmaster.com.au or 1300 795 267, Groups 12+ call 1300 889 278
* Performance times vary weekly
** Transaction fees apply
After its Sydney season, The Wizard of Oz will head to the Festival Theatre, Adelaide from 3 April; and the Regent Theatre, Melbourne, from 15 May