The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz Lucy Durack, Samantha Dodemaide, Alex Rathgeber, John Xintavelonis and Eli Cooper - photo by Jeff BusbyNo matter how many times you’ve watched the 1939 film, particularly if your only knowledge of the story is through the Stephen Schwartz musical, Wicked, you’ll find it hard to resist being enchanted by this lavish new stage version of L. Frank Baum’s timeless tale of the little girl who finds herself “somewhere over the rainbow”.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and director, Jeremy Sams, originally reworked the film for a production staged in The London Palladium in 2011, adding new songs composed by Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice and additional scenes. This production is closely based on that production, with a top-notch Australian cast headed by Anthony Warlow, Lucy Durack and Jemma Rix.

Thankfully, we weren’t subjected to a television series to find an actress to play Dorothy as English audiences were, in this production Dorothy is played by Samantha Dodemaide, who may not yet be a household name, but she’s notched up quite a lot of experience as an understudy in major productions, and this may well prove to be her breakout role.

Her Dorothy is sweet and plucky, and while her vocal inflections in Over the Rainbow were a tad unsettling at first, the sincerity of her phrasing and delivery drew enthusiastic applause from the first-night audience.

In this production, the role of The Wizard has been combined with another character, Professor Marvel, who meets up with Dorothy just before the cyclone hits. Professor Marvel has a magical caravan, and a fine new song, Wonders of the World, which in Anthony Warlow’s hands becomes a show-stopper. Warlow’s Wizard is also a delightfully mannered and nerdy creation who gets to sing two more excellent new songs, Bring Me the Broomstick and Farewell to Oz.

Drawing on her considerable comedic skills, Lucy Durack is delightfully ditzy as Glinda the Good, referencing Wicked with her eye-popping entrance from the flys and working her glittering costume for all its worth. Clad head to toe in shiny black feathers, Jemma Rix throws restraint to the wind to sing up a storm in her spectacular production number, Red Shoes Blues.

Though Alex Rathgeber, Eli Cooper and John Xintavelonis as Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion are an endearing trio, it’s the little Australian terrier playing Toto who steals the show, endearing itself to every member of the audience with its well-trained antics.

The hardworking ensemble revels in Arlene Phillips’ inventive choreography, whether being delightfully exuberant as the vertically-challenged Munchkins, wicked-reminiscent as the citizens of Oz, or somewhat threatening as the Winkies.

Throughout, Jeremy Sams has kept the storytelling crystal clear, enhanced by spectacular settings, costumes and visual effects, among which the dramatic cyclone is particularly memorable. The beautiful score includes all the familiar songs associated with this show, seamlessly interwoven with lovely new songs superbly played by an excellent 12 piece band conducted by Laura Tipoki.

This is a magical production which lives up to its hype. It may have taken six years to get to Australia, but it was worth the wait. You’ll enjoy it even more if you see it with a child. If you don’t have one of your own, borrow someone else’s.

The Wizard of Oz
Capitol Theatre, 15 Campbell Street, Haymarket (Sydney)
Performance: Thursday 4 January 2018
Season continues to 4 February 2018
Bookings: www.ticketmaster.com.au

Following the Sydney season, The Wizard of Oz plays the Adelaide Festival Centre from 3 April, and Melbourne’s Regent Theatre from 15 May 2018. For more information, visit: www.wizardofozthemusical.com for details.

Image: Lucy Durack, Samantha Dodemaide, Alex Rathgeber, John Xintavelonis and Eli Cooper star in The Wizard of Oz – photo by Jeff Busby

Review: Bill Stephens OAM

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