The Wiz

The Wiz
Music and Lyrics by Charlie Smalls (and others) and book by William F. Brown. Gosford Musical Society Juniors. Director: Ben Poole. Choreographer: Hayley Liddell. Music Director: Dylan Pollard. Stage Design: Darryl Kirkness. Wardrobe: Jamie McKenzie. Laycock Street Theatre. July 11-14, 2018.

This musical sprang about during the funkadelic 70s as an African American (soul) reimagining of the classic Wizard of Oz fable. While it was hugely successful as a stage show, the film, featuring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor et al, was critically panned. Nevertheless, it’s difficult not to make a very strong association with that template when you think of The Wiz. Like most new productions of shows that were strongly representative of the style of their era - there’s a sense of anticipation over how the director may choose to put his or her stamp on this (to avoid parody) while keeping it fresh and interesting for a modern Australian audience.

Some might think asking this question represents a lofty aspiration for a junior musical, but over the last dozen years or so GMS Juniors have established an enviable reputation, not only regarding the depth of youth talent in the Central Coast NSW region, but also for the level of innovation and creativity that springs up behind the scenes.

Emerging young Director Ben Poole draws strongly from his tertiary theatrical training to use several ‘devices’ - both literal (smart phones) and figurative (dream sequences) - to not only modernise the piece but add a very strong dramatic edge. With nods to modern contemporary dance, as well as Fosse-esquire precision - the choreography is outstanding. Staging and lighting serve the feel of the production well and the orchestra is top notch.

This reviewer saw the preview, and apart from a few very minor lags with musical cues, the production was virtually flawless. The polished vocals of these young performers need to be heard to be believed. One imagines some of them were born with microphones attached to their umbilical cords. Big thumbs up also to the stylish costume design (with an amusing nod to hipsters in the dance ensemble and cleverly ambiguous animal characters).

The choice for the iconic characters of Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow - to be played with sophistication and realism (instead of drenching them in make-up and cumbersome costumes) was a brave one, but it definitely paid off. The talented Lily Freeman, Tom Kelly (at times channeling the vocal stylings of John Mayer) and Georgina Hedges all endow their characters with emotional depth. Scotia Emmett (The Wiz); Khiara Doyle (Aunty Em/Glinda), Maddi Xuereb (Addaperle) Lulu Quirk (Evillene) maintain the uniformly fabulous quality of the principal cast.

Which leaves us with Mairead Tamsin-Young, perfectly cast as Dorothy. Not only does she look and play the part brilliantly, her vocal technique is nothing short of astonishing (Oh, and if the producers of “The Gilmore Girls” ever decide to do another reboot, this gifted lass could play Alexis Bledel’s daughter).

If there’s any critique to be made of this production at all, it’s that its target audience would be better suited to high school-aged and over, due to the darker emotional themes. But then again The Lion King and Snow White were deceptively violent stories, so I wouldn’t suggest it’s too dark - just that this show is not specifically aimed at very young children. There’s plenty for there for adults to chew on; it’s a show with all the feels and plenty of talent to keep an eye on for the future.

Rose Cooper 

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