The Wizard Of Oz

Date 12th July 2022
Society Urmston Musical Theatre
Venue Urmston Grammar School
Type of Production Musical
Director Stephanie Niland
Musical Director James Goodwin
Choreographer Lyndsey Florin

Report

Author: Kevin Proctor

Urmston Musical Theatre’s junior section unleash innovation in the Urmston Grammar School studio theatre with their chic and quirky telling of the classic family musical, The Wizard Of Oz.

The Wizard Of Oz famously won the 1940 Oscar for best original song ‘Over The Rainbow’ sung by Judy Garland which, as youd hope/expect, featured in this production just moments before the tornado whisks Dorothy to the mystical land of Oz. For the show’s finale, we were treated to an additional rendition of the celebrated ballad performed by the entire company, marking it as the unequivocal musical highlight of the evening from the show’s musical director, James Goodwin - certainly saved the best ‘til last with glorious harmonies and impressive control from the young triple threat cast turned choir! Members of the ensemble cast portray multiple roles in this production which keeps them on their toes and engages them throughout as they’re required to be multitalented fundamental cogs and Melia Finnegan’s iconic Wicked Witch’s shrieky laugh still lingers, wonderful! Her characterisation ensured we got all of the pinnacle characteristics of this famous and iconic Witch!    

 

This version has been specifically revised for a youth group to perform and has seen a few more characters integrated into it, which admittedly only appear briefly, some of which feature in the emerald city to offer further speaking parts. These have evidently been included for one purpose, to make the title more appealing to a sizable youth company to boast more speaking roles, fine, I can fully understand the reasoning behind this idea but I must admit, the additions of characters and the subjects they incorporate fail to resonate with the essence of the master work, completely jarring with the era and origin of the piece which only insults the original through a blatant disregard for what is a cherished classic. It’s quite concerning to imagine anyone had approved such inadequate alterations. Though, let me ratify that this is by no means any fault or blame on Urmston Musical Theatre who are contractually bound to perform the libretto they’re supplied with. I am simply frustrated by what is being presented to youth theatres as an improvement, which, in reality, falls significantly short of being any sort of positive enhancement to the show – it’s just peculiar and out of style for the piece.

Many of these new condensed versions for youth companies and schools come with backing tracks rather than needing to source and hire live musicians which admittedly does make things a little easier in many respects and – of course – they’re instantly budget-friendly this way.

 

Jessica Vernon showed terrific promise in the role of Dorothy, the profound pivot to the entire production and carried the story throughout, demonstrating competence as a vocalist and shone as an actress establishing the agony and longing to return home with first-class results. Taking on more experiences on-stage will nurture her confidence and raise her stage presence though the roots to expand on this were certainly clear as being a firm foundation for her. 

 

Ash Mallen has been no stranger to the scene in this district recently, appearing in many productions in an array of different roles and each time - this being no exception – seems to have a sincere and unique ability to blend with the cast of any production which he partakes. Being able to adapt to gel with teammates and surroundings across so many different companies is a rare and virtuous ability, particularly for someone so young which will entirely pay off in gaining and collecting experiences in order to shape and learn their craft. Ash was fittingly cast as the Lion and gave a mighty contribution to the principal line up proffering humour and expertise.

 

Sam Henshall’s Scarecrow was particularly likeable, he naturally exudes a sense of gravitas though his nerves did convey a slightly apologetic slant, it cannot be denied how this not so fortunate trait contributed no end to his likability. It would be a terrific progression to see more self-believe from Sam, he’s shown he has the aptitude in spades, just a few more spoonful’s of confidence would elevate this very able performer to hopefully drop those apprehension barriers to present the confident and perfectly able demeanour he should entirely hold.

Marcus Florin’s Tin Man was flourished with subtle nuances which I enjoyed very much, on a similar theme to some of his afore mentioned fellow cast members it would be an enhancement to his craft to have seen his performance injected with conviction for a more confident presentation, something that should naturally come with more experience.  

 

Director, Stephanie Niland took great care when crafting this production, wholly considering the venue to present a production which harmonised with its surroundings whilst adding creative flair to fashion a unique and inspiring design loaded with quirky ideas. 

Simple yet clever trendy bursts peppered throughout the show with costumes and scenic design, far too many to mention them all but a couple of my favourite ones to note were the two strands of simple yellow rope used to outline the yellow brick road which - so easily and effectively - formed different routes by being swiftly repositioned by members of the ensemble in different wavy patterns for each scene as the troupe make their journey to the emerald city. Probably the most effective – and rightly so – was how members of the ensemble each appeared with individual jumbled shapes of board which all came together in an instant to create a mask-like head of ‘the wizard’ complete with moving jaw with hordes of actions and expressions, this simple and incredibly cost effective idea proffered this production with more animation and dynamism than a production would get if they had spent thousands to hire a full set from a stellar theatrical supplier, incredibly resourceful and such an inspired way to incorporate the ensemble into scenes they wouldn’t usually feature in too.  

 

The upstage wall us used as a base for some beautiful projected images and as a canvas for video sequences which aid the storytelling and Ikea-like box shelf units on mini casters create different formations to become backdrops for various scenes whilst retaining numerous props and accessories within them which kept everything neat and handy throughout the course of the show.

 

This was a condensed production of the RSC’s 1987 stage version of the MGM film which in turn was inspired by a 1903 Broadway show based on the 1900 novel by L Frank Baum. So, it’s safe to say that it has a long pedigree and is well known. Yet these youngsters and the production team gave a strong sense of making it their own (in a vastly improved fashion when compared to the modified script).

The presence of drama as an academic subject in many of our schools is diminishing, it is crucial - now more than ever - to maintain avenues for young people to learn the art of the stage and foster the survival of these opportunities within our community.

Congratulations UMT. What you’re offering to the young people is tremendous and on a personal note, thank you for the very enjoyable trip down nostalgia lane! Lovely show choice, a firm favourite for many, myself included. I’m glad you persevered and remained dedicated to the project and successfully brought it to fruition!