If you're planning on seeing The Wizard of Ōtāhuhu, I'd get booking. Saturday evening's 80-minute performance attracted a capacity crowd who laughed uproariously, cheered wildly and applauded loudly enough to lift the roof of the Māngere Arts Centre.
This is the fifth school holiday production that Alison Quigan and Troy Tu'ua have co-directed and each production gets bolder, brighter and funnier. Ostensibly for families but really for everyone, this time they've put a uniquely South Auckland spin on The Wizard of Oz, staging it with a 50-strong cast, including a live band, aged 9 — 30.
There's a quartet of gender-fluid witches who are "wicked" in every sense of the word; rainbow-attired munchkins who hang out, appropriately, at Rainbow's End and a feisty Dorothy (Irene Folau) who leads her dog Koko (Aaron Ryan), the brainless scarecrow (Josephine Mavaega), heartless tinman (Bob Savea) and the cowardly lion (Rokolani Lavea) to meet the Wizard of Ōtāhuhu (Torie Pickering) who hangs out at WINZ (Wizards in New Zealand).
They're pursued by Dorothy's aunts (Luse Sua-Tuipulotu and Unaloto Funaki) who elicit the most laughs when they're sniping about whether Manu Samoa or the 'Ikale Tahi Tongan Rugby team are the best. Remarkably, nearly every character gets a humorous backstory enlivened and made relatable by dance (Parris Goebel, who was in Saturday night's audience, should be proud of the work her protege Elvis Lopeti has done with the choreography), song and topical wit.
The humor runs the gamut from physical comedy to sharp social commentary. There are jokes about privacy and social media; the prevalence of type 2 diabetes, and its links to fast food, and running rivalry between Samoa and Tonga. Other Pasifika cultures come in for some gentle ribbing, too; music, dances and costumes are used to reference them.
It never feels as if you're laughing at anyone, rather that you're laughing with them and they're happy to be more than a little self-deprecating. Wordplays about size — little person Aaron Ryan makes jokes about not being tall enough to ride the Fearfall at Rainbow's End while Rokolani Lavea "the vegan lion" is happy to have his physical condition pointed out — are cleverly done.
Musical director Siosaia Folau has done a superb job of pairing each song perfectly to the scenes they usher in; Lavea's languid version of Radiohead's Creep is breath-taking. It's ably-supported by an-all singing, all-dancing and extremely sassy ensemble who show size is no barrier to being able to shake your booty.
That audiences increase each year and that more members from the local community clamber to be part of their productions shows Quigan and Tu'ua are doing something very right. It's this — they're making theatre for the people, by the people and of the people.
What: The Wizard of Ōtāhuhu
Where: Mangere Arts Centre
Until Sat 28th April
Reviewer: Dionne Christian