The Wizard of Oz

By L. Frank Baum. Music and Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg. Background Music by Herbert Stothart. Adapted by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company. A production by Richmond Players with Richmond High School. The “Mac” Auditorium, Richmond High School, Lennox Street, Richmond. August 10 – 19, 2018.

Photo : Samantha O’Hare

I had the privilege to sit in on the tech run of this production on Monday night and though there were a few little glitches (after all, that’s what tech rehearsals are all about), director Josie Dwyer, musical director David Catterall and their very efficient and hard-working crew have their show ready to “hit the high spots” – and there are plenty of high spots to hit!

Taking into consideration the (unavoidable) limitations of a busy high school auditorium, Dwyer and her designers have come up with some imaginative ideas, including some impressive lighting and smoke effects. Her innovative set designer, John Grimshaw, has used scaffolding to extend the width of the stage, and scrim to hide and highlight the extensions and elevations he has created. Imaginative use of metres of hessian and camouflage netting transports the audience – as well as Dorothy and Toto – from Kansas to the land of the Munchkins … then to the Emerald City, where a giant animated face with red LED eyes, hovers magically above the actors.

and a very well trained dog that occasionally – and completely unintentionally – attempts to steal her scenes.

Dwyer has worked closely with a cast and crew of over a hundred to achieve a production that is colourful and entertaining. She has provided the opportunity for a great many enthusiastic Richmond youngsters – high school, tweens and junior primary – to work with the more ‘mature’ but equally enthusiastic members of the Richmond Players, including the President, Sean Duff, resplendent in “Emerald City” green guarding the gates to Oz.

Photo : Samantha O’Hare

Dorothy herself – played by Sabina Salas, a year 11 student – will be an asset to any musical theatre company in the years to come. She sings beautifully, but is also a convincing young actor, described aptly by Dwyer as being able to “find the heart of the character”. She is mature and assured, dealing confidently with a range of entrances and exits, and a very well trained dog that occasionally – and completely unintentionally – attempts to steal her scenes.

The companions she meets along the way are as charming as everyone expects them to be. Jake Wholohan as the Scarecrow is elastic and flexible with a wide-eyed naivety and cheerful smile that makes his character charmingly lovable. Craig Wynn-Jones as the Tin Man sustains a semi-robotic alertness that shines as seriously as his well-oiled joints and tapping toes. The cowardly lion played by Adrian Evangelista is as cuddly as Big Ted, as clumsy as Jerry Lewis and as scary as … a kitten … and equally endearing.

The witches – one good (Crystal Forbes) and one wicked (Catherine Gregory) – behave as expected. One comforts whilst the other cackles. One encourages whilst the other threatens. One inspires whilst the other, eventually, expires – as all bad witches should.

Supporting these larger-than-life characters is a chorus of tiny Munchkins, toe-tapping trees, crows, soldiers and green Emerald City socialites. Their voices ring out joyfully. They dance vivaciously. And they follow direction attentively.

Managing such a large cast is no mean feat. Teaching the songs and choreography, developing the characters, explaining the blocking, coordinating rehearsals, organising and storing costumes, takes a lot of planning and patience – and some very efficient backstage ‘wrangling’ to teach and sustain theatre decorum, and focus and timing.

There are some special moments in this production that I shouldn’t divulge … but wait for the wicked witch’s descent to “where the goblins go”; and the very special finale which Dwyer “hopes people will take away with them and remember”.

I’m sure they will.