Left – Jemma Rix and Samantha Dodemaide. Cover – Samantha Dodemaide and cast. Photos – Jeff Busby
There were no bums on seats in the last five minutes of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s new production of The Wizard of Oz in Adelaide’s Festival Theatre on the opening night because the packed house was on its feet roaring its approval of this wonderful show. It was no easy prospect to take on this lovely story born of the 1900 book by L. Frank Baum and cemented forever in the psyche of everyone who has seen the iconic film with Judy Garland as Dorothy. There is always the sense that no new production can match up to a much loved one and many attempts to stage the show have failed. Well, this one did not disappoint and its technological wonders had the audience spellbound as well as the very fine performances.
At its beginning with a brownish, greyish background, it was hard to understand what was going on because people on stage were rushing about yelling about something and the little girl next to me summed it up when she asked her mother, “What are they saying, Mum?” The adult on my other side wondered the same thing but I had no answer for her. My heart sank. Was it the Kentucky accent, the background noise or what? If I didn’t know the story I certainly wouldn’t have known that Dorothy (Samantha Dodemaide) is terrified that Miss Gulch (Jemma Rix) was aiming to have her dog, Toto, put down until the aggrieved one arrives on her bicycle and makes her intentions clear. We meet Aunt Emma (Sophie Weiss) Uncle Henry (Paul Hanlon) and field hands, Hunk (Eli Cooper), Hickory (Alex Rathgeber) and Zeke (John Xintavelonis). Mercifully, once the stage was cleared of everyone except Dorothy, it settled and we were able to relax and from then on such worries were behind us. Of course, at that point Dorothy sings “Over the rainbow”. That’s her entry into this show really, the one the audience loves to hear and she did it well. The original music is by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E.Y. Harburg with additional lyrics and music by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. The orchestra under its director, Laura Tipoki is hidden away but is delightfully effective from overture to triumphant end. Solo singers all are clear and most pleasant from Anthony Warlow in fine voice as the Wizard and Professor Marvel on through the main cast. The Ensemble was terrific. From the highly appreciative “Ahs” from the audience, Toto has already established himself as a star. There are two Totos (Flick and Trouble) on the cast list and they take it in turns to perform. Both are trained by Luke Hura, renowned animal trainer of Ballarat and are cute and canny Australian Cairn Terriers.
This is Samantha Dodemaide’s first really big role as Dorothy and she fills it well. Her diction is clear, her singing voice good and she acts with conviction as the young, confused girl who travels into the unknown with her dog. She shows courage, warmth and love which is how her creator, L. Frank Baum, would have liked to have seen her portrayed and which the audience obviously so appreciated.
To protect her pooch, Dorothy runs away and meets up with a very well dressed Professor Marvel (Anthony Warlow) immediately recognisable as an amiable charlatan with his “Wonders of the World” magic lantern show which is pretty magical who talks her into going home. But in the meantime a twister has been building and what a glorious tornado it is! With the aid of film, music and brilliance we are right there and watch as her house into which she has just managed to hide, is whisked away, Tardis-like, into the maelstrom. Thus she lands in Munchkin land and learns from the very good looking and perky Glinda, the Good Witch of the North (Lucy Durack) that the only one who can help her get home is the elusive, never seen in the flesh and all-powerful Wizard of Oz and that she must journey by foot to make her request. Mind you, she will be wearing the glittering red shoes removed from the dead legs of the Wicked Witch of the East on whom her house has fallen. Oops! Fortunately the Munchkins are ecstatic when their doctor declares, “She’s not really dead. She’s really and sincerely dead.” Unlike the film, these are not Little People. They are beautifully dressed, very good singers and dancers and so joyful that “Ding dong, the witch is dead” rings in the rafters and Dorothy is given a right royal welcome. Up to the time Dorothy accidentally arrives in Munchkinland, costumes fit the dull landscape of drought stricken Kentucky but from landing onwards all is colour, colour and more brilliant colour topped by a rainbow and Dorothy’s right when she tells Toto, “I have a feeling we’re not in Kentucky any more.” Glinda’s arrival is a masterpiece as she descends in a glittering dress that picks up myriad colours and that fills the stage. Not kidding. All the costuming is superbly done with great colour and intriguing design. The choreography throughout is good and very well executed and the lighting excellent. Of course there’s a fly in the ointment and it comes in the form of the angry sister of the crushed cadaver, the Wicked Witch of the West, (Jemma Rix) who viciously warns, “I’ll get you and your little dog too.” Both witches are a joy.
Dorothy must set off for the Land of Oz on the yellow brick road which winds off into what looks like eternity and it is on her journey sometimes through murky twisted red trees in the Scary Forest that she meets the endearing characters of Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion, each filling their roles to perfection. Scarecrow, he with the carrot for a nose and stuffed with straw, wouldn’t scare a robin let alone the noisy crows who mock him and his portrayal by Eli Cooper really makes him seem boneless. Tin Man, (Alex Rathgeber) rusted into inactivity, is wonderfully well created with costume and make up and given life by an oil can and if you’ve never seen a tap dancing tin man, now’s your chance. The Lion, (John Xintavelonis) cleverly costumed and made up, puts on a show of noisy aggression which collapses as soon as Dorothy gives him a punch on the nose for threatening Toto. He gets some good non-Baum lines such as when he’s overcome by the smell of poppies and says as he falls to the ground, “I’m sorry, the lion sleeps tonight” and when snowed on says proudly “I’m a Lion in Winter.” All three are a joy to watch and, of course, most of the main actors in this show, play more than one part and they do it extremely well.
At last we see the alluring green, Disney-like Emerald City and there hugely depicted in animation, threatening, scary, with prominent blue eyes and ugly mouth, they get to see the great Wizard of Oz who promises them what they want if they bring him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West. A giant clock morphs into a giant screen where we are taken to other places, to other people. There’s more exciting beautiful dancing to familiar classical music alien to the normal W of O productions but good and one, with sticks, is tricky to do and fun to watch. There are monkeys and Winkies and ugly creatures behaving and looking like giant Golems and Dorothy faces off with the powerful, evil Witch revealed in all her wickedness. Who will win that uneven battle and will Scarecrow ever get his brain, Tin Man his heart and Lion some courage? And will Dorothy ever get home? You’d better go to see this glorious show to find out. If you know already, go to confirm what you remember and if you don’t, go for a great story very well presented in every way.
John Frost and Suzanne Jones presents
The Wizard of Oz
by L. Frank Baum/Andrew Lloyd Weber
Director Jeremy Sams
Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide | King William Road, Adelaide SA
Dates: 1 – 29 Apr 2018
Bookings: 131246 | www.adelaidefestivalcentre.com.au