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Review: The Wizard of Oz by Theatrical. at The National Theatre Melbourne

Review by Taylor Kendal


It is arguably the most iconic and beloved story of all time, one that has entertained generations in various forms and styles for well over a century. The tale of a young girl lost in a fantastical, magical land, meeting an assortment of characters and learning lessons along the way to finding her way back home. Of course, I am talking about The Wizard of Oz. With source material like Frank. L. Baum’s original novel and the classic 1939 film starring Judy Garland, it is a story that is timeless and ageless and is the perfect choice for any theatre group to endeavour making their own and bringing to life for audiences of all ages. This is the feat that Theatrical theatre company have taken upon as part of their 2023 season.


Directed by Kim Anderson, this reiteration of Oz welcomes audience to a production that is ‘in a distinctly steam-punk fashion’. For those who might be unaware, ‘steampunk’ is a genre of science fiction that incorporates historical settings and fashion with elements of steam-powered machinery, in an anachronistic mashup that often references the industrial revolution. With The Wizard of Oz itself said to be a political allegory for turn of the century America facing the industrial revolution, and with all the otherworldly and out of time elements of the story, these two ideas sound like they are destined to come together in something beautiful.


It is important that I preface this entire review with the fact that the entire cast of this production is incredibly talented. From vocal stylings, their ability in dance and movement and the way they embodied the characters is wonderful. Any comments from here on out are no reflection of the talent that this company has and purely my own thoughts from the performance.


I was incredibly excited to see this production. A lifelong devout of the story, as well as being part of the show myself in my youth, I was perhaps going in with some very high expectations, some of which were absolutely met.


To me, the premise of a ‘distinctly steam-punk fashion’ got lost along the way. Aside from some of the characters costume designs and elements of a technical representation, as with the depiction of the Yellow Brick Road (more on that soon) and the vision of Oz himself, there wasn’t much of a steam-punk representation. The idea was certainly there, but more often than not it seemed incomplete and that it wasn’t followed through enough, which is a shame because the idea of melding the two together seemed to be so original and would have added a great twist on a classic tale.


The cast is headed by Lyla Digrazia as Dorothy Gale, the young heroine dreaming of a life beyond the dustbowl life in Kansas and finds herself inexplicably in the land of Oz over the rainbow. A talent for sure, Digrazia has a vocal talent that rivals her years and her stage presence is exceptional. Trusted with the most iconic song of the production, her performance of Over The Rainbow while technically sound, seemed to lack the needed emotion that is the crux of the entire song.


Absolutely stealing the show were the trio of Dorothy’s friends he meets along her journey down the yellow brick road. Kael Serin-D’Alterio’s Scarecrow was an utter delight, capturing the clumsy, caring nature of the brainless companion with a sweetness and naivety that captured your heart instantly, and his skills in physical comedy were exceptional in the role. Ashley Wilsnach portrayed the Tin Man with a beautiful characterisation of the sentimental man with the theatricality and gentleness that left audience members forgetting that he was without a heart. The loveable Cowardly Lion was portrayed so wonderfully by Leigh Roncon in such a way that would make Bert Lahr proud. From the voice and nuanced quirks it was a joy to behold this king of the forest.


There were many things I truly enjoyed about this performance. The costumes were visually beautiful, with special mention to the Winkies Guard uniforms for being practically movie quality duplicates. While very few of the costumes held the promised steam-punk quality, they serviced the characters well in each scene. The ensemble and cast of characters all understood their roles perfectly, bringing a level of enjoyment to each scene; it was clear that they enjoyed the part and were proud of what they were offering to the audience.


The Yellow Brick Road is almost a character itself in a way. The creation using lighting effects rather than a physical road was a great choice fitting with the theme and looked aesthetically pleasing as well. The only issue was that it kept disappearing and reappearing on stage for certain scenes, when it possibly could have been a more permanent fixture within the entire story.


The set design was simple, which in some scenes worked well with the idea that less is more. However, for a show that boasts magical scenery and lavish worlds, it seemed to be a bit lacking, where there certainly could have been more added to fully bring the scene to life. The lack of staging elements also highlighted how empty the space was with only part of the stage being utilised to its full potential at one time. The use of the digital visuals were great in capturing the essence of the cyclone and the harsh sepia tones of Kansas, but were underutilised in so many ways. There were moments in the story, the big reveals and the penultimate moment of facing the witch that left us feeling a little disappointed and were deemed a little anticlimactic in a way. Such big moments in the story could have been really something remarkable with some great build up by the actors, but simply did not reach that potential.


Overall, Theatrical’s production of The Wizard of Oz was faced with a somewhat daunting task of bringing to life as story that was beloved by so many. It had some impressive high points thanks to an incredibly talented cast of performers who clearly love what they do. However, much like how Dorothy felt upon meeting the Wizard, I was sadly left a little disappointed with some expectations and though enjoyed it, was left simply wanting MORE. Perhaps without the steam-punk inspiration at this time, the performance overall is an enjoyable foray into a world we all know and love.

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