The Wizard of Oz

Wed 8th – Sat 11th May 2013

reviews

Samuel Lane

at 00:05 on 9th May 2013

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On paper, this production might be a disaster. Some cheesy choreography, cringeworthy American accents, dodgy singing and interesting orchestral tuning doesn't stack up to a great show. Yet despite these bad omens, somehow this youth theatre production of a classic was broadly pulled off.

At the heart of any production of The Wizard of Oz is the music. The score is packed with famous tunes, from "Over the Rainbow", so ubiquitous it's sometimes boring, to the recent chart hit, for better or worse, "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead". Many of these catchy tunes were sung with gusto by the chorus, yet solo moments were more mixed. This applied to the orchestra, too, which often sounded rich and full as a whole, yet in quieter sections and where individual instruments came to the fore, was somewhat hesitant and occasionally out of tune. Dorothy, played by Hannah Tompkins, had a pleasant voice, soft and tender in abundance yet without quite enough power to make the most of her part. The same was true with Grace Lockwood's Glinda, whose voice was sweet, but really little more. Jake Morter's Scarecrow, on the other hand, was a vocal delight, with a clear, strong voice, who filled the stage with his energy.

Where many of the weaker singers made up for it, though, was with acting. Though here and there accents were shudderingly atrocious, mostly they were solid. Tompkins' Dorothy, in particular, sustained her American accent brilliantly, as did Lockwood, whilst playing Auntie Em. The most memorable acting performance, however, came from Remi King's Lion, who was wonderfully camp and had much of the audience in raptures with his extravagant gestures and charming facial expressions. His only match for sheer energy and over-the-top movement was from Morter's Scarecrow, who carried out the Director's instructions with conviction and confidence, something which a few other members of the cast would do well to imitate.

What let some of the cast's acting and dancing down, though, was simply its predictability. For instance, in "Over the Rainbow", Dorothy stretches her arms out the audience, slumps to her knees, sobs, and then rises again as the music picks up. Reasonable and effective, granted, but it's a set piece we've all seen hundreds of times before and entirely lacking in imagination. If Tompkins' had unlocked a little bit more vocal strength, it may have rescued the directorial limpness, but instead the show's most famous scene became slightly tedious.

Yet where the ensemble were involved, everything was rather more fun. The energy and dynamism of the large cast, dancing relatively in time with one another, was enjoyable and impressive to watch even when at its most conventional. Where posed with something slightly more innovative, such as with the luminous dancing of the Jitterbug scene, the ensemble were able to truly rise to task too. One just wishes they were given that task more often...

The staging, conversely, was a real highlight of the production. It was at the very heart of capturing the transition from initially bland Kansas to vibrant Oz. The sets in Oz were a riot of colour, especially in the Munchkin lands, and the scene transitions were handled relatively swiftly by a competent crew. The colour of Munchkinland was aided by the bright costumes, with the stage awash greens, oranges and reds. This gave the ensemble scenes even more of a sense of simple, childish enjoyment.

What this production is ,therefore, is traditional fun. If you want something interesting, new, challenging or perfectly honed, then this is not for you. However, if you have in mind some more old-fashioned enjoyment, absolutely unoriginal and with some faults, but all the more charming and comfortable because of it, then this is a must-see.

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