REVIEW: The Wizard of Oz – Motherwell Concert Hall, Motherwell

With the musical theatre behemoth that is Wicked (the untold story of the witches of Oz) currently treading the boards and packing the auditorium at the Edinburgh Playhouse on its record-breaking UK tour, Hamilton Operatic and Dramatic Club present the perfect opportunity to return to the source material that made it all possible; Frank L. Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.

Baum’s century old tale of little Dorothy Gale and her adventures in the magical land of Oz is presented here in John Kane’s 1986 overhauled stage version, featuring the classic and much-loved movie score from Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg, it also includes extended dialogue and the re-instated “The Jitterbug” sequence which was cut from the 1939 film.

With a new production team on board and a fresh influx of talent, the society have decided to kick of the theatrical festive season with a bang. The Wizard of Oz is no small undertaking: most of the audience being more than familiar with this beloved story and its classic soundtrack, and the team are to be applauded for the sheer scale of their ambition in staging this technically demanding and lengthy show. The actors must also be applauded for agreeing to share the stage with the inevitably scene-stealing Toto (played here by Alfie, who is a professional from the tips of his toes to his shiny nose and whose expression throughout was an entertainment in itself).

Key to the success of the piece is the casting of the central quartet: Marianne Millard is a competent Dorothy, vocally capable of carrying the role, she moves well too, however in the more emotive moments her dialogue defaults to an ear-piercing shrillness and at times her line delivery is a tad slow, especially when working off the other, more experienced actors. Stand-out however are the magical trio of the Scarecrow (John Carr), Tin Man (Gordon Watson) and the Cowardly Lion (Colin Vincent) the three men more than live up to expectations both vocally and in their acting. Vincent in particular could not have been better cast, his Cowardly Lion perfectly encapsulating the much-loved character and providing the biggest laughs of the night. Notable too are the impeccable American accents from the principal players which remain on point throughout,

There are many moments where the ensemble get their chance to shine too, but they are a little protracted in a show that comes in at just under three hours and add little to the storytelling, however this is no fault of the hard-working performers rather it is a criticism of the show itself.

There are an impressive number of scene/setting changes in the production, providing much to keep the interest levels high and a lot of nice small detail such as a crackling fire and pyrotechnic effects throughout, the costumes too are suitably colourful and liberal use is made of projected backgrounds to enhance each location. For the most part the transitions are handled very well by this amateur company, the only wish being that they were a little more brisk.

Mention must be made of the outstanding orchestra, ably directed by the youthful Christopher Duffy their playing remains tight and sharp and a delight to the ear for the duration of the show.

If this ambitious show is a glimpse of what the new creative team have to offer then I am keen to see what comes next. An impressive debut to build upon.