Review | ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is camp, colourful, and full of fun

Wizard of Oz | Crown Theatre | Until 22 Jan | ★ ★ ★ ½ 

From the team who brought us last year’s production of Legally Blonde, comes one of the most loved musicals of all time, The Wizard of Oz.

The musical began life as the Judy Garland film in 1939, and while it was updated for the stage by Sir Tim Rice and Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber in 2011, this rendition is based solely on the film version of the work.

If the measure of a musical is how many well known songs it contains, then The Wizard of Oz has bucketloads of tunes that are well embedded in our wider culture. From the iconic opening number Somewhere Over the Rainbow, to Ding Dong the Witch is Dead, Follow the Yellow Brick Road, We’re Off to See the Wizard and If I Only Had a Brain. 

Seven decades after the musical first appeared, the story of Dorothy’s adventures with Tin Man, Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion, are almost universally known

Somewhere Over The Rainbow has became a song for queer liberation. When Rufus Wainwright sang it at his Perth concert a few years ago the audience were in tears. In 1991 when it was announced over the public address system in London’s tube stations that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had been toppled from power, commuters instantly broke into renditions of the Ding Dong the Queen is Dead.

New Kids On The Block borrowed elements of March of The Winkies, while Elton John said Goodbye to the Yellow Brick Road, Eminem also rapped about the same golden paved pathway, and there’s even an entire musical The Wiz, telling the story from a black culture point of view, not to mention the highly successful prequel Wicked. Everybody knows this story.  

The familiarity of the material actually makes watching the first half of this production a tad predictable. Amy McCann plays Dorothy, she had a fine voice. She’s soon whisked away to The Land of Oz where her house flattens the Wicked Witch of the East.

The first scenes in Oz features The Munchkins, and while the Hollywood film cast over 120 people of short stature, here the producers have gone with a lot of actors kneeling, with shoes on the knees, – and some young children to make up the numbers. It makes for some very sedentary Munchkins.

Recalling how cleverly the recent production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory brought the energetic Oompa Loompas to life, this was a bit of a lacklustre introduction to a new world.

Rachael Beck stars as Glinda, the Good Witch, and Lucy Williamson, who was superb as Judy Garland in The Boy From Oz, is the green faced Wicked Witch of the West. Both are very talented, but Beck seems very under-used in this show given her profile. Both have moments where they fly into the rafters being raised on wires high above the stage. They are not so much flying, as slowly hoisted.

The show picks up as we meet Dorothy’s travelling companions. Isabella McSporran plays Scarecrow, a great piece of gender balancing casting. Ethan Churchill is the Tin Man, and Vincent Hooper is the Lion. Hooper is attention grabbing playing the Lion as camp, cuddly and cowardly. The first half of the show ends with the companions reaching the gates of the Emerald City.

The second half of the show is significantly superior, Greg Jerema delivers a scene stealing performance as The Guard of Oz, breathing life and energy into the show. He’s hilarious, captivating and simply sensational.

The second act opens with a massive production number The Merry Old Land of Oz, which felt like a West End cast had been substituted in during the interval. It had mountains of energy, sharp tight choreography, and the costumes were excellent.

After meeting the Wizard, Dorothy and her friends head off to fulfil the task of stealing the witch’s broomstick which lead into another energetic dance number The Jitterbug. This song was filmed for the 1939 musical, but cut out in the final edit of the film, and the footage was subsequently lost. It’s an excellent number and a lot of fun. Small inspects bite our heroes and the result is they can’t stop dancing.

Vincent Hooper has another fine moment in the spotlight singing If I Were The King of the Forrest, and then in no time Dorothy has clicked her heels three times and we’re back home in Kansas.                 

The Wizard of Oz is a great night out at the theatre, a perfect musical to take kids along to, and a talented Western Australian cast are flexing their muscles and showing us what they can do.

Catch The Wizard of Oz at Crown Theatre. 

Graeme Watson


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