Printable CopyTHE WIZARD OF OZ
John Frost
Adelaide Festival Theatre
Until 29 Apr 2018

Review by Nikki Gaertner

Reinventing a classic is a tricky thing, and this new production, fresh from the West End, and adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Director Jeremy Sams, did so with mixed success as it colourfully landed on the Festival Theatre stage to an eager Adelaide audience on opening night.

As noted in the program, this adaptation was brought about to create a stage version of the show that “fully works”, rather than previous presentations which have always “remained resolutely the film trapped in a stage environment”. And on most accounts it succeeds, with new songs added for characters like the Wicked Witch of the West, Professor Marval, and the Wizard, all previously non-singing parts, and additions to the musical score to round out the production.

But somewhere along the way some of the wonder and magic of the original is lost in this translation to the stage and it feels like many of the players are just going through the motions rather than truly getting to the core of what has made this such a timeless piece for so many years. Several scenes feel rushed, with some ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ key moments, and though some of the technical aspects are impressive, such as the Witch’s flaming broomstick, others are very minimal and leave you wanting more (eg the famed Yellow Brick Road is very basic with limited versatility; and both Witches simply walk off stage for their exits – where is the magic in that?!).

Samantha Dodemaide presents us with a more gutsy than wistful Dorothy, with all the right inflections in her dialogue for the part. But whether it was the major sound balance issues in the opening Kansas scenes making it difficult to hear any dialogue over the orchestra, or a lack of vocal gusto, “Over the Rainbow” was unfortunately not the show-stopper it should have been.

Alongside her Trouble and Flick as Toto stole many a scene, with constant “Awwww”s from the audience whenever he came on stage.

Anthony Warlow is obviously under-utilised in the minor dual-role of Professor Marval and The Wizard, but makes a big impact whenever he is on stage. His Act I finale, “Bring Me the Broomstick” is simply devine, and his characterization as The Wizard is spot-on and reminiscent of the original.

The trio of the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion is a bit of a mixed bag, but potentially more due to the script than the actors. Alex Rathgeber absolutely nails it with his Tin Man, giving a performance full of heart, complete with robotic movements and tap dancing, and John Xintavelonis is loveable and comedic as the Lion. But while Eli Cooper is suitably physically loose and floppy as the Scarecrow, the character is played as more dim-witted than originally written, which doesn’t really work, and doesn’t help build his close relationship with Dorothy. After all, Scarecrow should always have had the brain he so longs to find.

Wicked fans will no-doubt relish in the re-pairing of Jemma Rix and Lucy Durack as the Witches in this production, but purists may not agree with some of the character interpretations. Rix does well in this ‘Wicked’ role, sticking close to the original, but with touches of her alter-ago flashing in at times as well. Her rendition of “Red Shoes Blues” is a delight. On the other hand, Durack’s “Glinda the Good”, doesn’t fly close to the original at all, and is purely lifted from the Schwartz/Holzman book and her previous role. While her rendition of the new piece, “Already Home”, is beautifully delivered, it would have been nice to see Durack give Glinda a little more substance, grace and love in this production – it is a different show in the end, with this role originally written to give Dorothy “mother-figure”/alter-ego of Aunt Em in Oz.

Costumes, by Robert Jones, are visually stunning, colourful and modernised, with “The Merry Old Land of Oz” looking like it was lifted directly out of Wicked’s “One Short Day”, and the reimagined images of the Witches inspired. The sepia tones of Kansas contrasted with Oz’s vibrancy perfectly. Choreography, by Arlene Phillips, was also well drilled and executed, with a particular highlight within the Winkie rendition of “Hail-Hail! The Witch is Dead”.

It’s nice to see a show that many will have countless memories of hit our stage. This reboot is sure to gain momentum and grow in popularity over the years, and with a few character tweaks is likely to please both new fans and those loyal to the original film.