“Tao Po: is anybody home?” at The Street Theatre, September 18. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA.
Despite its surprisingly conventional telling of “The Wizard of Oz” story, “The Wiz” has a fine score, and this company is fortunate to have a very fine musical director in WO Reynolds, who has managed to assemble an impressive 19-piece orchestra, to do that score full justice. It also has a splendid venue in the Adams Auditorium in which to perform, so why not give it a go?
The original 1975 Broadway production won seven Tony Awards, among them “Best Musical” as well as “Best Costume Design” and “Best Direction” for its director Geoffrey Holder. Indeed, this writer was able to obtain some of those extraordinary Geoffrey Holder costumes from the original Australian production, for a production of “Kismet” in the Canberra Theatre in 1986.
However, working with rather less resources than the producers of the Broadway version, ADFA PAC have wisely decided to forgo lavish production, opting instead for a stripped back presentation, relying on the terrific score, and the talent and enthusiasm of its performers to carry the show. It was a good decision.
Director Jordan Graney has placed the large orchestra onstage in part-view of the audience, behind a fairly basic multi-level setting, allowing his strong quartet of principals, Emily Claxton (Dorothy), Connor Haas (Lion), Jack Hirst (Tinman) and Tennay Burgess (Scarecrow), to carry the storyline, while filling the stage with Jordana McLeod’s well-rehearsed, stylishly choreographed ensemble numbers to provide the spectacle.
Vocal and acting ability among the ensemble cast is varied. Emily Claxton makes an appealing Dorothy, even if the demands of her killer song “Home” remain just outside her vocal abilities. Anna Thomas chews up the scenery as the wicked witch Evilene, and her take-no-prisoners version of “No Bad News” is a highlight. Emma Purcell is delightfully saucy as the good witch of the north, Adderperle, especially leading the ensemble in “He’s the Wizard”. Anastasia Murray, as the good witch, Glinda, gets the best entrance of the night, spectacularly borne aloft by five sensationally ripped body-builders. She also provides the best vocal performance with her interpretation of “Believe in Yourself”. Connor Haas makes an appealing lion, and Daniel Haas makes a strong impression in the rather thankless role of The Wiz.
Most of the ethnic implications inherent in the script are sensibly ignored, so that in this production Dorothy lives in Kanberra, rather than Kansas, and the script is embellished with in-jokes and local references. All of which works surprising well when combined with exuberant acting performances and tuneful songs. The ADFA Performing Arts Company has struck gold by thinking outside the square to produce this rarely seen Broadway gem.