Left – Jemma Rix and Samantha Dodemaide. Cover – Samantha Dodemaide and cast. Photos – Jeff Busby
L. Frank Baum’s story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been a staple of children’s entertainment for more than a hundred years. A number of musical stage versions immediately followed the publication of the novel in 1900, but it was the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, that transformed the story into Hollywood legend. Arguably one of the greatest movies of all time, in its day it was certainly one of the most expensive to make.
If the tale of Dorothy and the Wizard wasn’t already an icon of pop culture, a more recent retelling of the story has further etched it into our collective consciousness. The ‘untold’ story of the Witches of Oz, otherwise known as the mega musical, Wicked, has become one of the highest grossing musicals of all time, earning more than a billion dollars at the box office, one of only three shows to ever have done so.
This new production of The Wizard of Oz, adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams retains all of the classic elements that anyone familiar with the 1939 film would hope to see, while subtly updating the story for a more contemporary audience and cleverly incorporating some visual wizardry of it's own. The famous twister, the flying monkeys and the haunted forest are all represented on stage via video projection (designed by Jon Driscoll), and contribute much to the sense of scale of the production, reminding us of the cinematic history of the story.
Musically, this new adaptation draws heavily on the 1939 film, and again, the classics are all there – Ding-dong! The Witch is Dead, If I Only Had a Brain, We’re Off to See the Wizard and, of course, Over the Rainbow. The production also includes eight new songs by Lloyd Webber himself, with lyrics by long-term collaborator Tim Rice – both the Wizard and the Wicked Witch of the West each receiving a larger slice of the musical action. While some of the new songs display traces of the trademark Lloyd Webber sound, for the most part the new music melds seamlessly with the original.
Anthony Warlow headlines in the title role, following once again in the footsteps of Michael Crawford, who originally played the role of the Wizard in London (and who famously originated the role of the Phantom in Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera). While not one of his more demanding roles, Warlow delivers a superb performance as The Wizard, and a master class in vocal technique for any who aspire to perform on a mainstage in any musical theatre.
The youthful Samantha Dodemaide is convincing as the girlish Dorothy, but nevertheless manages to be upstaged on occasion by one of the too cute by half silky terriers playing Toto (Trouble and Flick).
Glinda the Good Witch is played by Lucy Durack, while the Wicked Witch of the West is played by Jemma Rix – the pair famously revising their respective roles as the Witches in the recent Australian production of Wicked. While The Wizard of Oz tells a far more simplistic version of the Witches story than their incarnation in Wicked, the two performers nevertheless do a fine job and even manage to inject some personality into what are otherwise fairly stock characters.
Eli Cooper as Scarecrow, Alex Rathgeber as Tinman and John Xintavelonis (channelling Nathan Lane) as Lion, round out this very accomplished cast.
In truth, there's not a lot of surprises in this show, but without question it's a quality production. Andrew Lloyd Webber has cleverly managed to gently and carefully refresh a classic without completely overshadowing the original. This is an extremely well made production with strong performances from the entire cast. Take nana. Take the kids. You wont be disappointed.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's London Palladium production of
The Wizard of Oz
Music Harold Arlen | Lyrics E.Y. Harburg | Additional Music Andrew Lloyd Webber | Additional Lyrics Tim Rice | Adaptation Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams
Director Jeremy Sams
Venue: Regent Theatre | 191 Collins Street, Melbourne VIC
Dates: from 17 May 2018