The newest adaptation of the 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz opened on Thursday night at the Regent Theatre, with a cast full of some of Australia’s most prominent names in theatre. While the show, an Andrew Lloyd Webber project, is not without its issues, it is full of charm and life thanks to the wonderful and energetic efforts of the show’s stellar cast.
Although headlined by seasoned veteran Anthony Warlow and the experienced duo of Lucy Durack and Jemma Rix, it actually the lesser known performers that stole the show. The standouts were by the three lovable, misfit companions who accompany Dorothy on her journey through Oz, the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man.
Dorothy first meets the Scarecrow, played by Eli Cooper, when she arrives in Oz. Despite being a relative newcomer to the performance scene, Cooper’s portrayal of the clumsy and caring Scarecrow charms throughout the entirety of the show.
Dorothy goes on to meet the Lion and the Tin Man, played by John Xintavelonis and Alex Rathgeber respectively. The Oz adventurers bounce off each other superbly, and have established great chemistry in the show’s run through Brisbane, Adelaide, and Sydney fo far. They are funny, full of energy, and consistently entertaining.
While the Lion and Scarecrow continue to provide laughs a plenty, unfortunately the Tin Man is left somewhat forgotten about after his introduction, a minor disappointment.
The other lesser known star in the cast was the show’s lead, newcomer Samantha Dodemaide. Dodemaide’s performance as Dorothy was effortless, as she wowed the crowd with her sweet and soothing voice. You could listen to her rendition of the classic hit ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ a thousand times over and it would sound just as nice each time.
Dodemaide portrays the character with the innocence and wonder Judy Garland made the role famous for, and looked right at home among the big names on stage.
The show’s star power comes through Durack, Rix, and Warlow, and they do not disappoint. Rix and Durack reprise their roles as the witches from the hit show Wicked, and do so with ease. Durack is a seasoned professional, her comic timing is absolutely on point, and she embodies everything the good witch should ever be.
Rix on the other hand is delightfully wicked, with one of the show’s great highlights being her evil cackle. Warlow similarly intimidates as the fearsome Oz, before easily sliding into the role of bumbling weakling when Oz’s true form is revealed.
It goes without mentioning that Flick and Trouble, the four legged actors portraying Dorothy’s canine friend Toto, are also quite popular with the audience.
While the cast portrays the show with gusto, they are unfortunately left a little let down by the script. The music is catchy, but the songs are written as if they do not trust the performers to do them justice. Durack and Rix have shown their powerhouse voices in previous productions, but unfortunately the score for this show is devoid of jaw dropping musical notes that these performers are ever so capable of hitting.
The show also doesn’t start with a bang, with the Kansas opening being terribly boring before the action picks up in Oz where things move at a welcomed breakneck speed.
There are another number of problems that hold the show back from brilliance, one being that while the classic songs are catchy and delightful, the new songs written for the adaptation aren’t memorable or entirely necessary.
Another disappointment lies in the stagecraft, with the overuse of projections at numerous points, including in the change from Kansas to Oz, coming across as a lazy cut corner. In contrast, once this has passed, the Oz set that has been left behind is stunning, full of vibrant colour and beautiful to the eye.
While this isn’t the perfect adaptation, it succeeds in retaining the charm, spirit, and sense of wonder the original film had in spades, and that is the most important thing. The quick pace and consistent action will keep the younger crowd the show is targeted at delighted, and the cast portrays the show with an energy that makes it more than worth seeing.
The Wizard of Oz is set to finish its run at the Regent Theatre at the end of July.