The Wiz was wonderful
ONCE upon a time, as all fairy stories go, there was a man called Noel Coward who produced a West End show starring a child actress and a horse. On the night Noel attended the production, the child actress was dreadful and the horse did some toileting on stage. When asked what he thought of the performance, Coward replied that “if they had stuck the child’s head up the horse’s rear, it would have cured two problems at once!”
The Wizard of Oz which was produced in Tuam last week had no such problems. There were plenty of children and this time a dog called Toto. And they were splendid. We were told that the ages of the cast ranged from five to mid-twenties, and it is a credit to Tuam Youth Theatre that everyone on stage gave so much to make this as delightful a show as last year’s.
This year, most of the scenes were created by brilliant back projection on a massive screen, and some of them actually had movement, as in the Waving Cornfield, the blinking eyes in the Haunted Forest and the animated clock in the Witch’s Chamber. It was all done seamlessly and not even on the professional stage have I seen this technique performed to such a high standard. I suspect Liam Feeney (who did not appear in the credits) is the man behind the team who organised this, along with stunning lighting and effects, so take a bow.
Most people are familiar with the show, having seen the film starring Judy Garland. The best known song from the film is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which astonishingly was almost omitted from the original screenplay, and when 16-year-old Jordan McPhillips gave her poignant rendition of Rainbow in the second scene, we knew we were in for a treat. She may be young, but she has a wealth of stage experience to her credit, and she portrayed the innocent Dorothy with complete confidence and superb vocals.
And what about Toto? I have been always fearful of dogs on stage since I had the pleasure to appear with one in MJ Molloy’s The Wood of the Whispering several decades ago, and on the opening night one of the young lads in the audience started whistling for the dog to come to them! And the day after the play, the dog gave birth to a litter of pups. Now if that had happened on stage…
But to get back to Toto — a cuddly curly-haired Bichon Frise, whose owner I am reliably informed is also curly-haired, and can sometimes be seen playing junior football with Cortoon. To quote from a different show, when Toto arrived, “you should have heard the oohs and aahs” and Toto even got in on the act during Dorethy’s “Rainbow” song with a few delighted yelps! When being towed away by the obnoxious Miss Gulch (Hannah Rhatigan), Toto resisted with all his might and put his feet down and had to be pulled off the stage! Noel Coward would be pleased…
Most of the actors had dual roles, due to the nature of the show. Miss Gulch, the bossy schoolmistress, became the Wicked Witch of the West in Oz. What a tour de force this was for Hannah Rhatigan, with her wildly hysterical laugh and her green painted, hooked-nosed menacing presence. In true vaudeville fashion, there were even a few boos for the baddie at the end of the show. Her stage exit had the audience on their toes, as she disappeared in a cleverly disguised hole in the stage after Dorothy doused her with water.
One of the finest scenes in the show was when Dorothy landed in Munchkinland and the actors appeared from behind umbrellas. Great choreography here and lots of humour, particularly from the primary school pupils who looked completely at home on the stage. When the Munchkins direct Dorothy down the Yellow Brick Road, she first meets the Scarecrow (Damien Comer), who gave a rubber jointed display in his first aftempts to walk. It was an astonishing piece of acting, and the audience were fearful that he would fall and do himself an injury, but Damien was always in complete control and gave a magnificent rendition of “If I only had a Brain”. And what about the puppet crows in the cornfield? A master stroke, and could have been straight out of the Muppets!
Dorothy continues on and meets the Tin Man (looking for a heart) and the Lion (seeking courage). Paul Marsden played the former with great poignancy and his opening lines were hilarious until his mouth got well oiled! The much experienced Brad Anderson played the cowardly Lion with great wit and his rendition of “If I were King of the Forest” was one of the highlights of the show. There was great interaction between the four main actors, Dorothy, Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man, the last three being characters we had seen in Kansas at the beginning of the show.
Dorothy and her merry band keep following the Yellow Brick Road, despite the best efforts of the Wicked Witch and her band of Monkeys and lackeys. They want to find the Wizard of Oz to get a brain for the Scarecrow, a Heart for the Tin Man and Courage for the Lion. There was even a snow shower in the poppy field, again a first in an amateur show for this viewer, and at last they get to the city of Oz where The Wizard tries to bully the visitors with much huffing and puffing. Thomas Monaghan played the dual role of the incompetent Wizard and the failed magician Professor Marvel. But when he is unmasked (by Toto) he turns into the kindly person he would like to be, and there was a great scene where he presented the Scarecrow with a Degree (not in maths!), the Tin Man with a Heart and the Lion with a medal for courage.
The Good Witch (Danielle Carroll) was quite superb and has a beautiful singing voice. In a sparkling white costume, she dominated every scene in which she appeared. She played the wonderful Belle in last year’s show, and was perfectly cast in her dual role this year.
There were so many good things in this show, it would be take many pages to list them all. People appearing and disappearing out of and into the ground, the magnificent music, choreography, the obvious joy of the performers, the brilliant back projection, the other world costumes, the make-up, the production. To Gillian Geraghty (Director/ Choreographer), John Flatley and his orchestra, the wonderful chorus line, the back stage crew — heartiest congratulations on maintaining and in some cases surpassing, the standard of former years. A thoroughly enjoyable experience.
— M Ó L