My relationship with The Wizard of Oz has been a fraught one. It was the first show I was ever taken to see (at the tender age of three) and I never got to hear a single note. Before the houselights had even gone down, I ran from the auditorium screaming. Thankfully I did eventually feel brave enough to tackle theatre again – but it has taken 40 years for me to finally get round to seeing Dorothy and her friends on a theatrical yellow brick road.
It is a theatrical curiosity in many ways, it sits rather uncomfortably on the stage (as compared to the film) with too many scene changes and some clunky dialogue. But there is no doubting the enthusiasm and energy on the part of the young cast in Oxfordshire Youth Music Theatre’s new production of the RSC adaptation.
Debbie Rose returns once again to the pit and delivers a confident musical account of the score – with some strong orchestral playing and accomplished singing on the part of both chorus and principles. Edward Blagrove returns as director and works hard to overcome some of the technical demands placed on him by the script. I was taken by the idea of using a puppet for Dorothy’s dog Toto – and he was brought to life well by Bridie Sheppard. However the puppet was far too small for a theatre the size of the Playhouse and so the impact was only really appreciated from those in the front rows of the stalls.
The staging of the Jitterbug sequence (which never made it into the film) was probably the strongest number for the company as a whole. It was bright, vibrant, modern and suitably menacing – and it was clear that the cast were enjoying themselves enormously.
Of course, any production of The Wizard of Oz stands or falls on the casting of Dorothy – and with Hannah Tompkins in the role they found a very talented and capable young performer. She has a strong voice and was in control of the difficult accent throughout. No doubt she will go on to grace the stage with confidence and personality for many years to come. The supporting principles were equally strong with Jake Morter standing out as a very endearing and flexible Scarecrow.
I saw a performance towards the end of the run and I am sorry to say that the technical side of the production was not as polished as the cast. The scene changes were laboured and the lighting somewhat imprecise. I appreciate that it is a technically demanding show – but the cast were slightly let down by things outside their control.
All in all, this was a very creditable attempt at a difficult show. Not perhaps their strongest outing, but the fault lies with the source material rather than the talents of the dedicated and hardworking young people who sing and dance their hearts out.