Review: The Wizard Of Oz turns Melbourne’s Regent Theatre into a Giant Rainbow (Until July 15th)

I read a quote by Nicholas Sparks the other day that went something along the lines of, “The thing that people want most is to be happy. Most young people seem to think that those things lay somewhere in the future, while most older people believe they lay in the past.”

As I sat in Melbourne’s Regent Theatre, listening to Dorothy (played by the wonderful Samantha Dodemaid) recite the famous line, “There’s no place like home,” this quote ran through my mind. It immediately transported me back to the first time I ever saw The Wizard of Oz, and suddenly I understood the story more clearly.

This is where the true magic of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of The Wizard of Oz unfolds. It beautifully intertwines the nostalgic sweetness of the original story with the glitz and glamour of contemporary Broadway- teamed with a sugary dollop of showy camp- and in doing so, perfectly captures the pleasures of past, present and future.

Based on the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, Webber remains faithful to the original tale (adapted from L. Frank Baum’s book), however, collaborating with Tim Rice, introduces several new songs. With classics like, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and “Ding Dong The Witch is Dead,” it is hard for these new tunes to not be overshadowed, and at times they feel like plot fillers. However, there are some stand outs such as Professor Marvel’s (played by Anthony Warlow) ‘Wonders of the World.’ Warlow delivers the lyrically tricky number with ease. As the windows of his wagon pop open, a screen pops out of its top and flicks between images of various locations around the world. The theatre turns into the night’s sky, with the lights filling the space with stars. It’s a truly magical moment that left my jaw hanging in awe and wonder, just like Dorothy on the stage and the little girl sitting next to me.

The show’s design, video projections, costumes and lighting are the real gem of the night. The detail in the colour is astounding. Each scene has a distinct palate, and every bit of the stage reflects it. From the costumes to the sets, everything changes to mimic the scene playing out; blue for the Munchkins, green for Emerald City, yellow for the Yellow brick road and red for the Wicked Witch’s guard. The opening scenes of Kansas are in neutral tones, the cast decked out in brown, beige and cream- echoing the tornado that hits the house (amazingly played out using projector tricks). Then we’re hit with the bright colours of Oz and it smacks you in the face like you’ve just walked into a rainbow. And don’t even get me started on Good Witch Glinda’s (played by Lucy Durack) dress. There’s a scene where she descends from the sky and the sky descends with her, draping down into the shape of her skirt and it’s just- WOW.

But any good production wouldn’t be complete without a compelling cast. Samantha Dodemaid wonderfully captures Dorothy’s naivety and innocence towards the world. Jemma Rix and Lucy Durack reprise their roles as Wicked Witch Elphaba and Good Witch Glinda, both sliding into their characters as though they were born to play them. Durack’s sassy humour, interjected at random points throughout the show, demands a shout out because she does it so damn well. Anthony Warlow’s versatility shines through in dual roles as Professor Marvel and the Wizard. But for me the real highlights of the night are Dorothy’s three friends, Scarecrow (Eli Cooper), Tin Man (Alex Rathgeber) and Lion (John Xintravelonis). All three actors truly encompass their characters original charm, as well as nail the comic timing and choreography. In particular Cooper stands out with his physicality, convincingly slumping around like he truly is made of hay.

And of course I can’t forget Toto, the extraordinarily well-trained terrier that followed Dorothy on stage. It’s always a risky move working with animals, but oh-boy did Toto kill it. Every time he came on stage his adorable nonchalant face stole the limelight.

Mix all these elements together, and the team behind The Wizard of Oz have created a bright production that both young and old will enjoy. From the little girl smiling with glee sitting next to me, to the older gentlemen laughing about the streamers caught on his shoes as we filed out of the theatre, for a moment I saw both young and old happy and that’s when I made the realisation… this happiness is neither coming from the past or the future, it’s from the present. As I walked out of the theatre and out of the magical world of Oz, much like Dorothy, I felt happy and at home.

FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Wizard of Oz will be playing at Regent Theatre in Melbourne until July 15th. For date, tickets and more information click here.