Review

Wizard of Oz Westside Theatre, 17th Ave, January 19-27, 2018. www.taurangamusicaltheatre.co.nz Tickets and show times: www.iticket.co.nz


I have a feeling we are not in Tauranga anymore.

Just like when Dorothy stepped out of Kansas, Tauranga audiences are being whisked down the yellow brick road to an enchanting place somewhere over the rainbow.

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The yellow brick road is 17th Avenue, and the rainbow is shining over Westside Theatre for Tauranga Musical Theatre's young performer's edition of the classic musical Wizard of Oz.

It's hard to believe it is almost 80 years since Judy Garland starred in the classic 1939 American fantasy movie which wins new hearts each Christmas when it is rolled out on our small screens, and even longer since novelist Frank Baum created the story in his 1900 book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The tween I took with me was only familiar with the plot and songs from Wicked, the Broadway block spinoff of the original movie.

How beautifully ironic then, that this show is brought to us by the theatre's youngest performers - aged between 10 and 18 - in a special one-hour adaptation.

Young Wizard of Oz actors in Tauranga Musical Theatre's production. PHOTO/ Alisha Taylor Photography
Young Wizard of Oz actors in Tauranga Musical Theatre's production. PHOTO/ Alisha Taylor Photography

The performers are directed by a young crew too. Director Adam Herbert, 20, and musical director Sarah Coleman, 19, are both former Tauranga Musical theatre youth players.
The third member of the production team is Zoe Hunter, who is choreographing with Tauranga Musical Theatre for the first time.

Just in case you have been stuck in a field scaring crows for the last 80 years, here's a quick plot recap:

After a particularly dramatic weatherbomb, young Dorothy gets whisked away in a tornado to the magical land of Oz.

She begins a journey down the yellow brick road to meet the wizard, collecting a trio of friends along the way.

Each of these acquaintances has issues - the scarecrow has no confidence in his intellect, the tin man has no heart, and the lion has severe anxiety problems.

Young Wizard of Oz actors in Tauranga Musical Theatre's production. PHOTO/ Alisha Taylor Photography
Young Wizard of Oz actors in Tauranga Musical Theatre's production. PHOTO/ Alisha Taylor Photography

Just in case you miss the not-so-subtle symbolism, there's a good witch and a bad witch.

The original Oz is self-consciously allegorical about a specific late 19th-century populism but still relevant for today's audiences.

Consider Oz himself, a smoke and mirrors demagogue. Who does that remind you of?

The wicked witch, who has a posse of dogs and monkeys, is a modern-day bully.

The journey down the yellow brick road leads to personal growth for Dorothy and her trio of friends, making them an inspiration for those seeking courage and self-belief.

But the wonderful thing about the Wizard of Oz is not its political or moral messages.

Michael Graham, Bailey Hocking, Issac Jarden (back) Ashley Hocking, Bella Wright and Colleen Fahy. Photo/Alisha Taylor Photography
Michael Graham, Bailey Hocking, Issac Jarden (back) Ashley Hocking, Bella Wright and Colleen Fahy. Photo/Alisha Taylor Photography

It has plenty to say about human fragility and how to overcome it.

And of course it is simply a marvellous timeless story.

This young team of actors tell it magnificently.

I had to keep reminding myself that they were all under 18, such was their ability to convey a range of emotions from fun and laughter to poignancy, with each character able to confidently express a range of emotions through words and song.

The high calibre of talent in the whole team was breathtaking.

It is hard to pick standouts but Bella Wright, 14, as Dorothy Gale is surely a future star.

While she naturally commands the stage as the lead, she never overstates the role, graciously letting the whole team shine. She is truly outstanding, a pro, with a delicious mix of maturity and youthful exuberance, and its hard to take your eyes off her.

Bailey Hocking as the cowardly lion is a crowd pleaser, bringing this hilarious character to life with his whole body, voice, and the facials will have you in stitches.

Michael Graham is brilliant as the scarecrow, his confidence shining through - and Issac Jarden as the tin man is sure to warm your hearts.

And Zoe Arthur-Warsop, one of the youngest cast members at just 10, is a scene-stealer as Toto.

Colleen Fahy is a terrifying witch, bringing incredible energy to the stage - I love her coven with its words Death, Hate and Cackle a play on Live, Life, Love.

And Paraskevi Spiropoulos is a cleverly playful wizard.

The choreography dazzles, with the cast confidently moving through the Jitterbug, Ding Dong the Witch is Dead, and Off to See the Wizard.

I love that the characters use the whole theatre to tell the story, not just the stage - marching up and down the stairs and coming through the audience.

The wardrobe team have done a brilliant job of creative, intricate costumes - no detail is missed, down to the witch's army suits and the eye-poppingly colourful munchkins.

When the curtain closed, like Dorothy I felt like I had just woken from a dream.

Actually I think we really were in Oz.