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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

THE WIZARD OF OZ (article first published : 2008-08-20; last edited : [an error occurred while processing this directive])

As I sat in the auditorium of the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre tonight, watching the opening performance of The Wizard of Oz, my mind wandered back to June 22, 1981, which saw the launch of this venue. It is one of my favourite theatres – both as a performer and a member of the audience.

The “Sneddon” opened with a show with a seemingly inauspicious title – Nikolai Erdman’s absurdist comedy, The Suicide. It was director Pieter Scholtz’s final selection, after having had to shelve the major musical that was originally planned for the launch. As the contractors went way over time and opening night loomed, he had to whittle down the requirements of a choice of production a number of times until he ended up with The Suicide which required very little in terms of technology, other than lighting. It could also be rehearsed up until the last minute in the Drama Prac Room close by on the campus.

As a member of the cast of The Suicide, I watched the theatre grow from its planning stages. After that, I observed firsthand its progression to its full technical capacity as I appeared in shows such as Fiddler on the Roof (1981), Anne of Green Gables (1982); Andorrah (1983) and Sound of Music (1985). So I know The Sneddon well - backstage and front!

It’s been a long while since the theatre has been used to its full potential so it was a delight to revel in tonight’s The Wizard of Oz as KickstArt presented the magic of this time-honoured musical using all the attributes – and then some! – of the Sneddon.

With Steven Stead’s professional and clear-cut direction and Greg King’s splendid sets, The Wizard of Oz makes strong use of puppetry and exciting effects. Things fly around the auditorium, the good witch descends gracefully from the roof, the wicked witch melts and the Winged Monkeys leap into the audience. All good theatrical stuff - the faces of both young and old around me were enraptured.

The rock solid cast gives fine performances all round. Star of the show is the effervescent Carol Trench, now living in Norway but enticed back to Durban to play Dorothy. Toto, Dorothy’s adored little dog, is played with much energy and tail-wags by Rusty – a complete scene stealer, as are the delightful Munchkins!

For those who don’t know the story, Dorothy is a young girl who lives with her aunt and uncle on a farm in Kansas. Three easygoing farmhands form part of her life as does the grouchy Miss Gulch. A tornado hits the area and Dorothy gets knocked unconscious – the rest of the show is her dream during which she lands in Munchkinland where all the people in her life take on a different persona.

The three farmhands become Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion – a hilarious and engaging trio of Bryan Hiles, Darren King and Peter Court – while Miss Gulch turns into the Wicked Witch of the West (Clare Mortimer) whose evil intentions are thwarted by Glinda, Witch of the North (Belinda Henwood). Alison Cassels and Rowan Bartlett are Aunty Em and Uncle Henry, Frances Currie is the glamorous Gloria while Michael Gritten is the bogus but perceptive Professor Marvel who turns into the Wizard of Oz.

This is a perfect production to introduce children to the full magic and visual feast of theatre. With the economy as it is, they won’t see its like very often. KickstArt’s investment in such a major production is commendable and The Wizard of Oz should not be missed. If you don’t have children, then go on your own - but the excitement and delight on young people’s faces makes it worth borrowing some!

Musical director Evan Roberts has done justice to the music and lyrics of the MGM motion picture score, Janine Bennewith’s choreography is sassy and humorous, Tina le Roux’s lighting is spectacular and Megan Levy’s sure control is evident on the sound design. The show is lavishly costumed – some are created by Terrence Bray and Peter Court and others are on loan from The South African State Theatre.

The Wizard of Oz runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until September 7. Tickets R90 (R70 children under 12) booked through Computicket. Pensioners’ tickets at R70 are available but can only be purchased at the box office. – Caroline Smart




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