Returning to Oz

Iconic characters in Southern Cross' production of the Wizard of Oz IMAGE: Paul Allan and Tamara Korn

Call me a broken record, I don’t care – I’ll keep saying it til the cows come home (or get blown away in a twister), Townsville’s youth are unbelievably talented.

The Riverway Arts Centre has been working around the clock to churn out high school musical after high school musical, and we’re not in a rush to be breaking free from that anytime soon: because the latest offering, Southern Cross Catholic College’s The Wizard of Oz, is fun, colourful, zany, and lives up to the high standard set by the venue’s other most recent guests Seussical and Popstars.

The tale of Dorothy and Toto journeying down the yellow brick road is one that spans generations, and Southern Cross has taken this into account, crafting a show that appeals to all ages: with catchy songs, witty humour, and some of the most loveable characters you’ll find anywhere between here and Kansas.

Brandon Gibbs and Will Lunn as The Wizard of Oz and the Cowardly Lion IMAGE: Paul Allan and Tamara Korn

The size of the ensemble is a true testament to the school, with so many students eager to be involved and stick around after class to craft something magical – and every member of that ensemble shines, from munchkins to jitterbugs. From the moment Dorothy lands in Oz, everything feels wondrous thanks to the enthusiasm of the cast in the first ensemble number, Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead. The colourful costumes (Leith Montel), props (Veronica Horn) and set (Kevin Tierney, Veronica Horn and Tony Skalecki) all combined and complemented the already energetic chorus to welcome the audience to Oz, and prove that it doesn’t take much to put on a remarkable show: umbrellas with petals painted on top to mimic flowers and fabric rolled across the stage to mark the yellow brick road were all that were needed to let our imaginations run wild and get taken away by the talent of the cast.

It’s difficult to pull off a musical about a girl from Kansas without the accents to go along with it, and that Southern twang was there – but dialogue could be slowed in places to help the audience follow along. There were pieces that became difficult to understand and were rushed through, where students would have had time to take a breath and have their moment in the spotlight; everything can accidentally speed up when you’re in front of an audience for the first time!

Tyzack Daniels and Katelyn Stahre as The Scarecrow and Dorothy IMAGE: Paul Allan and Tamara Korn

One character I can guarantee you won’t be able to stop focusing on is Lion, played by Will Lunn. Will’s acting and facial expressions added so much to the performance, and his comedic timing left us laughing well after the end of scenes.

The Wicked Witch, played by Lottie Parker, was equally memorable: Lottie, your acting made the witch believable and fearsome, and your laugh was incredibly unique and iconic – you made that witch your own.

Thomas Gwynne, who took on the role of Tin Man, has a bright performing future ahead of him if he ever pursues it. Thomas, I was sitting next to the Director of Townsville Choral Society’s Les Miserables, and as soon as you started singing If I Only Had A Heart she sat bolt upright – you have an incredibly powerful voice, and I can’t wait to see you in future productions!

Huge congratulations also to leading lady Katelyn Stahre for taking on the role of Dorothy: from the moment she opened the show solo with Over the Rainbow to ensemble numbers surrounded by a colourful cast, Katelyn shone and kept the narrative going well. Brandon Gibbs, performing as Professor Marvel and the Wizard of Oz, could hold his own show – he was incredibly funny, and went from intimidating to vulnerable in the blink of an eye. One of the most impressive students in the show was Glinda, played by Eva Agapiou: it was only after her incredible performance that we found out she wasn’t feeling the best – only betrayed during the show by a pesky cough or two!

Southern Cross’Wizard of Oz ensemble IMAGE: Paul Allan and Tamara Korn

Although there were a few slow scene changes (to be expected during a tech run) and a few members of the cast on stage or off stage at the wrong times, this didn’t detract from the show being any less fun – and you can see every student on stage, from youngest to oldest, giving their all and having the best time while they do it.

Congratulations to Director Shelley Keehn. The Wizard of Oz is funny, the songs are catchy, and the cast never lost energy. No matter how many remakes of Oz you’ve seen, Southern Cross College has pieced together a show that will entertain you.

Catch the final performance of The Wizard of Oz at the Riverway Arts Centre tonight at 7pm. For information and tickets, click here

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