Being a firm fan of the Judy Garland "Wizard of Oz" I didn't expect to like anything much about "The Wiz" - but as my daughter was involved, and none of our extended family were available to go and see it, I resigned myself to it. I brought my two sons (14 and 11) to The Ark community theatre on Friday night, and hoped for the best.
|Adapearl and the Munchkins |
(Photo Emma Smyth, used with permission.)
...And the best is what we got!
Firstly, it started quite promptly - not something you can usually rely on with school productions in my experience - so that was a good sign. There was Dorothy, busy with chores. This young lady was suitably sweet and kind, keeping a wide-eyed. slightly awed look about her through till the end. Aunty Em's first song was difficult to hear, but tuneful, so I reserved judgement. I was told later that it could be heard well enough in other parts of the theatre...
The tornado was 'performed' by a group of dancers - a great whirligig of movement that caught the attention of the audience while the cleverly planned revolving centrepiece of the set was turned around to give us Oz. And from that moment on the whole thing really took off.
The munchkins in multicoloured wigs and costumes tumbled out (on their knees) on to the stage to greet Dorothy - one alone standing tall - adding a few laughs whenever he delivered a deep-voiced line, as all his fellow munchkins would shrug as if to say '...don't know how he happened...'!
The Good Witch Adapearl appeared on the scene, a character that threw her weight about a bit, and whose efforts at magic didn't quite meet the abilities she claimed. She was a melodramatic busybody, easily distracted and very funny with a contagious smile - the children loved her.
So Dorothy received the slippers, and set off, meeting (my favourite character/performance of the whole thing - along with my daughter's of course :) ...) the Scarecrow. The Tin Man was great, and the Cowardly Lion was brilliantly portrayed - but I loved the Scarecrow. A female scarecrow. And the young actress was fantastic. Her part was funny anyway, but she really made that character come alive! I don't know if the younger audience would have agreed - as the Lion was pretty much a show stealer (with a fascinating tail that honestly seemed to have a life of its own!) - but her sarcasm, indignance, incredibility, blunt outspokenness, and fluctuating enthusiasm and resignation were so perfectly reflected in her tone, actions and expression - I loved her whole performance.
|Eveline, Adapearl and Glinda |
(Photo Emma Smyth, used with permission.)
The four main characters, gave several lively renditions of "Ease On Down The Road" between scenes - good choreography and first class entertainment.
There were lots of group or crowd scenes, and in every one all the participants were completely in character - and the dancers did a fine job as tornadoes, seductive poppies, and more. The whole was very professionally done indeed.
The doorkeeper of the Emerald City was a nervous gentleman, peeping out little doors, but hesitant to open the great gates.
Attired as a resident of such a Great City should be, grandly in white tails, but, in the end, easily tricked into letting our foursome into the city.
The Wicked Witch Eveline was powerful, mean, sulky, demanding, nasty, and cruel. Beautifully performed, she struck terror into friend and foe alike. Surrounded, as the baddies always are, by incompetents, patience was not among her ... (virtues?) ...er good points! She commanded the stage admirably, and died a very cleverly staged death - melting, somehow, before our very eyes - never seen leaving the stage! Her assistant was played to perfection too - with a cowardly combination of fear in Eveline's presence, and cruelty in her absence.
The young Wiz amazed us with her vocal range singing first a very beautiful, very high-pitched song, and following it only moments later with another, at least a couple of octaves lower, both of which were belted out impressively!
Toward the end Glinda appeared. Called upon by Adapearl who jumped around excitedly giving her arrival a grand build-up. Standing on a pedestal, stately and fairy-queen-like, in a long white dress - Glinda could never be mistaken for anyone ordinary, and glided, with a faraway look in her eyes, to the front of the stage. Her two songs were beautifully delivered, and, having given poor Dorothy the message that she had it in her power to get home all along, away she floated, back to her pedestal.
She summoned Adapearl, who - initially engrossed in her 'wanga-wand', so as to give Glinda need to call her a second time in admonishment - jumped up beside her, her 'little-sister-trying-to-be-sophisticated' voice fading away backstage as she piped "How was the ride in?" to the already lost-in-her-own-world Glinda.
So Dorothy returned home safely, and so did we. All of us loved it, for different reasons. I know my 11 year old was completely taken with the Lion, though he did - equally he claims - love his sister's performance as Glinda.
I should have known what to expect really. A couple of years ago we went to see Hertswood's production of Bugsy Malone, and that was also a fantastic evening, with great performances from all involved.
Bravo Hertswood School and The Ark - and well done Miss Watkins, all the staff involved, the costumiers (many - maybe all - the costumes were designed and made from scratch), the stage-hands, the sound team and each and all players involved with The Wiz. If I've left anyone out* - let me know. The whole production was well done, and everyone in it deserves credit.
I must make special mention of Mr Lilly who was the Director, and the driving force behind this production!
Who needs pricey West End productions, when Hertswood at The Ark provide such an excellent alternative.
*** Buy the DVD if/when it is produced!!***