The Wizard of Oz (Regent) – theatre review

Technological endeavour and craftsmanship combine in the beautifully realised The Wizard of Oz. This fun-filled family musical will have cross-generational appeal.

This London Palladium production was developed from the popular MGM movie of 1939. The movie, in turn, was based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The Wizard of Oz stage musical circa 2018 contains the beloved Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg songs from the film score, along with new music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

The story revolves around Dorothy, who lives with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry – and her little dog Toto – on a farm in Kansas. Dorothy feels misunderstood and ignored. The owner of the farm is a fearsome woman who threatens to do away with Toto. Fearing the worst, Dorothy runs away with Toto, only to be caught up in a tornado, which whisks Dorothy and her pooch away to the magical land of Oz.

There she meets the Munchkins, Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, the Wicked Witch of the West and the Wizard of Oz. She also encounters a scarecrow without a brain, a tin man without a heart and a lion without courage … as she attempts to find a way home.

The talented cast of 28 shine in their respective roles. Samantha Dodemaide is pitch perfect as Dorothy, while Anthony Warlow has heaps of fun as The Wizard. In fact, the word fun describes the whole show. Lucy Durack has a spring in her step as Glinda, and Jemma Rix gives the Wicked Witch mock dastardly appeal.

The heart of the story remains the emergence of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion as they step up to save Dorothy from the Wicked Witch’s evil clutches. Eli Cooper plays the forgetful “brainless” man of straw, Alex Rathgeber is prone to stiffening up on his heart-felt mission and John Xintavelonis often has his tail between his legs as a scaredy cat.

Spare a thought also for the eye catching performances by the only real animal actors in the piece, the terriers Flick and Trouble trained up as Toto, who elicit sighs at every appearance (and they’re frequent).

The good triumphing over evil storyline is always a winner and remains as pertinent as ever in an ever-more-testing world.

The staging, costumes and animation are first rate. The sets are expertly rendered – starting with the rural setting in Kansas and triumphing with the striking dominant green of Emerald City and the inner workings of the Wizard’s lair. The arrival of the twister has quite a dramatic impact. It’s impossible to overlook the rainbow that remains a dominant feature of the story; as does the Yellow Brick Road.

I loved the ensemble dance number following (spoiler alert) the demise of the Wicked Witch. It reminded me of the best days of Michael Flatley’s Riverdance. The music is fabulous – melodic and very easy on the ear, including including “Over the Rainbow”, “Ding! Dong! The Witch is Dead” and “We’re Off to See the Wizard”.

This production of The Wizard of Oz had its world premiere at The London Palladium in March 2011. Its Australian debut was in Brisbane in November 2017. Since then it’s played in Sydney and Adelaide, before arriving in Melbourne. We’ve had to wait a while, but it has allowed the anticipation to build … and the wait has been well and truly worth it.

The Wizard of Oz is playing at The Regent Theatre until 22 July 2018.

Alex First

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