The Wizard of Oz

Theatre, Musicals
 (Photograph: Jeff Busby)
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Photograph: Jeff Busby
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Photograph: Jeff Busby
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Photograph: Jeff Busby
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Photograph: Jeff Busby
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Photograph: Jeff Busby
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Photograph: Jeff Busby
 (Photograph: Jeff Busby)
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Photograph: Jeff Busby
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Photograph: Jeff Busby
 (Photograph: Jeff Busby)
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Photograph: Jeff Busby

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s London Palladium production of The Wizard of Oz lands at the Capitol Theatre

It’s well over a century since Dorothy first strolled down the yellow brick road in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The story of the lost girl from Kansas and her unlikely companions has barely dulled in our collective imagination since then.

On the one hand, it’s a plainly wonderful fantasy-adventure, set in a magical world full of illusion and fascinating characters. But it can also be read as an allegory for just about anything: one of the most popular theories is that Baum was writing about American economics at the time.

The story has had countless adaptations, makeovers and remounts since its publication – many of those adding new layers of meaning and allegory – but none more famous than the 1939 MGM film, which provides the inspiration for this faithful family-focused stage version.

The colourful Australian tour is based on the London Palladium production which premiered in 2011. The stars – apart from Flick and Trouble, the very good doggos who share the role of Toto – are the sets and costumes by Robert Jones. They’ve been somewhat scaled down for this tour, but the Emerald City still glistens and Glinda’s entrance is a sight to behold.

This version features the original MGM score alongside a few new numbers penned by British musical theatre legends Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice: they’re a little more contemporary than those written by Harold Arlen for the film, but they’re witty and melodic enough to sit comfortably alongside.

Lloyd Webber and director Jeremy Sams have adapted the film with clarity and a gentle update – the Lollipop Guild now wear letterman jackets and drive razor scooters. The second act feels a little padded out – a Russian dance number by the Wicked Witch’s tribe of winkie guards is a bit redundant – but the production moves at a fast enough clip to hold the attention of younger audience members.

Samantha Dodemaide is one of Australia’s brightest rising musical theatre stars and she’s very much at ease in Dorothy’s ruby slippers. But her relentless chirpiness – she was almost certainly directed that way – means Dorothy’s journey is never quite as moving as you’d hope. She sings prettily but doesn’t quite get the necessary yearning for Over The Rainbow; it’s not just the Tin Man who needs to find a heart in this production.

Thankfully there’s a fair bit of soul coming from the supporting cast.

Producers John Frost and Suzanne Jones have cannily brought in Jemma Rix as the Wicked Witch of the West and Lucy Durack as Glinda the Good. Both actors toured Australia for several years playing those roles in the Wizard of Oz spin-off musical Wicked, and they bring a touch of that experience to the stage: Durack borrows heavily from her delightfully ditzy Wicked performance and Rix – not necessarily the most natural of character actors – hams it up brilliantly and nails the wicked laugh.

Anthony Warlow gets top billing but has no more than 15 minutes of stage time. He makes the most of his few short scenes, drawing three complete and distinct characters including Professor Marvel and the less-than-wonderful Wizard of Oz.

John Xintavelonis channels Nathan Lane as a very funny Cowardly Lion, Eli Cooper is charming as the Scarecrow and Alex Rathgeber makes for a fine Tin Man. They’re the perfect – if unorthodox – friends for a young girl, but also provide a link for the adult audience in this frequently kid-focused production.

There’s nothing much subversive about this production, nor does it contribute new traditions to Wizard of Oz folklore. Apart from the Cowardly Lion’s declaration that he’s “proud to be a friend of Dorothy” and a few other subtle innuendos, everything is played with a very straight bat.

That makes this production a pretty sure thing if you’re a fan of the film: it doesn’t mess with the formula and pays constant tribute to a cultural phenomenon that will almost certainly gain a new generation of fans in Sydney thanks to this production.

By: Ben Neutze

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