It’s a well-known story of imagination and heart full of beloved characters and classic songs. In this adaptation, Cameron Farnham injects the community theatre spirit into The Wondrous Wizard of Oz with references to the Lane Cove area, some Australian cultural gags, and a few additional hit songs.
Opening with an ensemble rendition of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”, the production remains largely loyal to the original film version with the Munchkins, the Poppy Fields, the Emerald City, and the Wicked Witch’s (Deborah George) flying monkey army except instead of Kansas, we start in the world of Lanacové. All the members of the favourite quartet make an appearance including an adventurous Dorothy (Madeleine Biddle), a silly Scarecrow (Benjamin Walsh), a clever Tin Man (Kate Anthonisz), a charming Cowardly Lion (Alexei Belchenko), and even the scrappy Toto (Ahelya Mahajan). Belchenko in particular captured audiences’ hearts with his big sobs and likeable demeanour as the biggest of all scaredy cats but mischievous Toto steals many scenes with her hijinks.
Both the witches of the North and the West were stand-outs in terms of their vocal performances but also their consistent and humorous characterisations. Glinda (Amber Johnson) is the sparkling embodiment of all things good in the world, able to right any wrong by simply swishing on stage and waving her arms. George’s Wicked Witch of the West has all the cackling immaturity of our memories with an added bit of haughty poise.
Like all good productions involving children, this one is a pleasant shambles of missed cues, dropped lines, and skipped songs made up for by the cast’s quick ad-libbing. Direction and adaptation from Farnham prioritises the nostalgia of the full story of the Yellow Brick Road but perhaps a more abridged version would have retained the littlest audience members’ attention more effectively. Focus waned particularly in elongated scenes of mistakes and obstacles as the troupe stumble through the Poppy Fields and suffer an ambush in the dark forest.
Set design from Farnham, Lochie Beh, and Rose Edwards is an adaptable array of fairy lights and the ever-present golden guide that, through a series of picket fences, hanging tapestries, and strategically placed signs, turns into the many scenes of Dorothy’s dream adventure. Farnham’s lighting design also contributes considerably to the development of atmosphere in colourful washes but the design is more effective in the quieter, more reflective moments when the stars are shining and the spot centres on our heroine.
In the final dance number, choreographed by Emma Ashley, it’s clear there is something especially joyous about returning to the land of Oz even just for a wild spring evening in Lanacové.
The Wondrous Wizard of Oz is running at St Aidan’s from November 8th – 23rd