Tre Ventour reviews The Wizard of Oz at Royal & Derngate for half term this week…
Northampton Musical Theatre Company’s latest production The Wizard of Oz at Royal & Derngate is a knockout. In the past, the company have done productions of Grease, Annie, 42nd Street and My Fair Lady.
Their rendition of the Golden Age classic provides a door to Oz for a new generation of fans, through the directorial prowess of Martyn Knight. The timeless themes of friendship, belief and love can be carried through into modern times.
In this heartfelt musical based on the film starring Judy Garland, I was witness to another telling of the story of Dorothy (Samantha Perryman) and her dog Toto. When they’re caught in a tornado, they are somehow transported from Kansas in the American Midwest to the magical Land of Oz.
Here she makes new friends including Tin Man (Luke White), Scarecrow (Gordon Ritchie) and Lion (Ben Stanton). She battles new enemies, including The Wicked Witch (Ashleigh Maddison) and journeys to meet the mysterious Wizard of Oz who she thinks can help her return home and possibly grant her new friends with a brain, a heart and courage.
Samantha Perryman was born to play Dorothy, a young woman from rural Kansas. And I’d go as far as to say that Perryman in the role gives Judy Garland a run for her money. And if they ever do remake The Wizard of Oz (God forbid) in film form, Perryman shouldn’t be far from the casting director’s radar. What a powerful set of lungs, those pipes!
Her acting performance and singing performance were flawless; I was on her side from the get-go until the final curtain call. Her opposite, The Wicked Witch, played by Ashleigh Maddison (doubles up as Miss Gulch), gave an incredible performance too – playing the age-old trope of the “hook-nosed evil witch” to absolute perfection. She stole every scene she was in.
Protagonists and antagonists aside, the supporting cast were also very good. Luke White (Hickory/Tinman), Ben Stanton (Zeke/Lion) and Gordon Ritchie (Hunk/Scarecrow) were wonderful. However, I have a gripe: when we’re introduced to Tin Man, we linger on the humour longer than what is necessary. It holds the story and thus it becomes stilted. That is a gripe within the writing and not Luke White’s measured performance. All three were on point with their characterisations but Ben Stanton as Lion was the standout. His performance had the potential to be too on the nose but it was refined, comical, and not “too pantomime”. And those sets, just wow.
When a story goes from screen to stage or viceversa, issues can often arise. Some of the best are Fences (2017), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and Grease (1978). NMTC’s The Wizard of Oz has joined the greats. I grew up with Disney classic musicals like The Lion King (1994) and The Jungle Book (1967) but I also grew up with the live-action musicals like West Side Story (1961), The Wizard of Oz (1939), Grease and The Sound of Music (1965).
From the epic musical numbers to performances from all the cast and the magnificent musical score (directed by Graham Tear), The Wizard of Oz has it all. And the child actors as the Munchkins became part of the stage, showing a good rapport with Jay Snedker (Glinda/Aunt Em) and Samantha Perryman (Dorothy) as well.
Musical theatre is often criticised as being style over substance. However, the sound and lighting were used as much as they needed to be and the story didn’t suffer. Those sharp cracks did startle me at times though. The Wicked Witch appeared when I least expected it. Overall, this is a sublime piece of art and it’s shown me that children’s theatre can be really great without feeling the need to be cheesy.
Frequently with kids’ plays I find myself grimacing more often than not, but those moments were very few in The Wizard of Oz due to the good writing, direction and fantastic musical numbers and score.
This is a story that will resonate with a modern audience more than ever because laughter is sometimes all we have. We look over the rainbow to fiction and fantasy because it’s in these stories that show humanity is still good, even in times of crisis.
For details of tickets contact Royal & Derngate here or phone through on 01604 624811.