Tauranga Musical Theatre Youth set the bar very high with a distinctly polished start to the year ahead with their performance of ‘The Wizard of Oz – Young Performer's Edition'.
They breathe life into this much-loved story, giving the audience a fresh appreciation of the fantasy adventure story.
Originally hitting the big screen with a strong-willed young Kansas girl called Dorothy and her dog Toto, this stage rendition wonderfully recreates the wildness of a tornado that sweeps the pair up and drops them down somewhere over the rainbow.
Based on the 1900 book by L. Frank Baum “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and the 1939 film of the same name starring Judy Garland, the stage performance faithfully portrays the drab life of Kansas versus the fantastical colourful world of the Munchkins, with outstanding costume and stage design.
The Wicked Witch of the West, played superbly by Colleen Fahy, who also plays Miss Gulch, is so malevolently delicious, desiring her sister's magical ruby slippers which Dorothy has unwittingly acquired. Cackling with smoky evil green-blackness, she encapsulates all we hoped her to be, scaring us up with her appearances from above our heads and on stage.
Before arriving I wondered how would they ever get a dog to behave well for what's required in the show. Incredibly, they resolved this with Zoe Arthur –Warsop's totally believable transformation into Toto. And at the theatre doors, someone had the inspiring idea of painting the path and steps bright yellow, making me smile and filling me with anticipation.
The first of many wow moments for me was when Dorothy, played by Bella Wright, sang the unforgettable ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow”. In that moment, she captured everything from my childhood that I felt when watching Judy Garland in the same role. A terrific actor and singer, she also became the perfectly nuanced companion to the Scarcrow played by Michael Graham, the Tin Man played by Issac Jarden, and the Lion played by Bailey Hocking.
I love these three pals of Dorothy. The scarecrow with his pesky crows, was well-played and hilariously floppy. The Tin Man was just as talented, and both were nearly outshone by the best cowardly lion I've seen in this role. Bailey Hocking is an adorable marvel, with excellent vocal skills and comedic timing and makes us fall in love all over again with the trio.
Glinda, played by Ashley Hocking was everything we needed her to be, reminding us of the joy and healing power of home from her softly pink costume to her voice and gentle demeanour. She was as charming and sweet as the Wicked Witch of the West was wrathful and vengeful.
A great addition to this show is a song called “The Jitterbug” which was cut from the 1939 film. The enthusiastic dancers, choreographed by Zoe Hunter, confidently took hold of every opportunity to showcase a range of styles with some very talented performances. It took a keen eye to notice that the Munchkins had learned more than one set of movements to the same song, which I enjoyed very much. Having been in many Tauranga Musical Theatre productions in the past, I recognised the amount of energy and effort that went staging the dances.
The Wizard of Oz, played by Paraskevi Spiropoulos, also plays the role of Marvel. Imperious and imposing, he is finally revealed by Toto to be a meek and ordinary man speaking into a microphone. Despite being a ‘humbug', he decides to grant each traveller's request, giving the Scarecrow, the Tinman and the Lion a token of his their newly-acquired abilities. He offers to return Dorothy to Kansas by his hot-air balloon, but after the balloon accidentally takes off, Dorothy and Toto are left behind. Glinda reappears and shows Dorothy she has always had the power to return home. All she has to do is closer her eyes, tap her heels together three times, and repeat to herself, “There's no place like home”.
We reach the end of the show, and take a breathless moment to marvel again at the costumes, hair and makeup, technical and production aspects. I very much enjoyed how highly polished the performance is, and the striving for excellence that the performers, director Adam Herbert and musical director Sarah Coleman, Zoe Hunter and all the crew bring. Adam, back in Tauranga for the summer to direct the show, is training as an actor in Wellington and enjoyed the opportunity to give back to his local community. And he's done a superb job of that.
There's no place like home and there's no better place than here to mention the front of house and bar team, who are so essential to the overall experience of attending live theatre.
‘Great holiday entertainment for the whole family' is something I often read, but most definitely this show has it all. It's fabulous from the casting, acting, choreography, and stage design right through to the singing of some of my most-loved songs from the screen classic. Ding Dong the Witch is Dead, - there's so much to this one-hour show which makes it a ‘must see'.