Salisbury Journalby Morwenna Blake
THE yellow brick road leads the way to the stage at Salisbury City Hall this week, as Musical Theatre Salisbury goes on a magical trip to the Emerald City, via Munchkin Land. And those who slip on their ruby slippers and follow Dorothy Gale and her friends on their quest to ask the Wizard of Oz to grant their dearest wishes won’t be disappointed.
Robert Preedy, David Simmons and Matt Sparkes as The Cowardly Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow are every bit as endearing as they should be. Jenny Mears puts in a cacklingly evil turn as the Wicked Witch, Laura Kitching is superb as the Sorceress of the North, and the munchkins are enthusiastically adorable.
But the star here is 16-year-old Natasha George as Dorothy. The Avon Valley College student is word-perfect, dances and sings with a confidence justified by her ability and puts in a performance in her first role with the group that would be a credit to someone twice her age and with twice the experience.
In my preview of this production, I mistakenly referred to the part played by Toto the dog. He doesn’t appear here. But don’t worry, you won’t miss him. A show for all the family that the cast seemed to enjoy every bit as much as the audience.
NODA ReviewAndrew Carpenter, NODA Regional Representative SW Area District 10
As it said in the programme notes, The Wizard of Oz is one of the all-time great musicals and so expectations are always high when any society decides to perform it. Rest assured the show was in safe hands with this MTS production. For this musical to be a success it needs an all-round good performer in the role of Dorothy and in Natasha George you had just that. A newcomer to the ranks of MTS, Natasha had a confidence about her performance that belittled her tender years. A very pleasant singing voice coupled with first class acting and dancing skills meant that the audience was always confident when she was on stage that she would ‘deliver’ and she did so in spades. Her relationship with the various other characters was a central feature in making this musical believable – well done Natasha.
Matt Sparkes as Scarecrow also gave a first class performance and supported Dorothy very well. I would have liked to have seen a little more movement in the leg department however, particularly early on, in terms of not being able to walk properly. As always Matt produced an excellent vocal performance in his own inimitable relaxed fashion and coupled this with a sensitive approach to the role which worked well. Dave Simmons as Tin Woodman also gave fantastic support in his role. Having played this part before myself I know only too well how difficult it is to compete with the more obviously popular characters of Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion but Dave did magnificently to ‘hold his own’ in this intrepid trio and again possesses a very pleasant singing voice and produced a sensitive portrayal of the role. The part of the Cowardly Lion is a real joy for any actor and Robert Preedy grasped it with both hands. Here was an obviously experienced comedy actor who knew how to squeeze every ounce of comedy out of each situation offered. The voice, movement and timing were perfect and Robert completed a near perfect trio of characters.
Sue Goddard as Aunt Em and Julian Jeffery as Uncle Henry got the show off to a good start but I did find this early part of the production needed an injection of more characterisation and didn’t really come alive until the introduction of the Munchkins (maybe it’s the way it’s written). David Booth as The Wizard of Oz gave a solid performance and the contrast between the ‘voice’ and him appearing in person worked very well indeed. Laura Kitching was outstanding as the Sorceress of the North. Her poise, movement and particularly singing made her perfect for the role. However like in many musicals it was the ‘baddie’ who really stole the show. Jenny Mears as the Wicked Witch of the West was truly outstanding with a blood curdling cackle and an accent that brought shivers down your spine yet that was crystal clear at all times. She understood both the comic content and evil intentions perfectly and I congratulate Jenny for this all round first class performance.
As I mentioned previously the production really came alive with the introduction of the Munchkins. This scene was particularly impressive in terms of colour, singing and movement and was a real joy to behold. I can’t quite make up my mind whether it’s best to have children play these roles so as to get the reduced heights to contrast with the main characters but I can fully understand why any amateur society would wish to use their adult ensemble otherwise they wouldn’t appear until the second half. The chorus and dancers once again excelled in the Land of Oz and provided a number of the high spots with the quality of singing and movement. The quality of the MTS ensemble is well known and once again in this production of The Wizard of Oz they delivered in style.
I congratulate Director, Barry McIlroy and MD, Liz Weager, for creating a production that was pleasant on the eye and ear. Sticking rigidly to a traditional approach this worked particularly well in this production and was always true to the storyline (So often directors try and be ‘too clever’ and this distracts from what is a good storyline that is so well known and well loved). Costumes were spectacular and colourful, the set (particularly in Act Two) was stunningly effective and the lighting and effects worked very well with the possible exception of the voice of the Wizard when I felt the gobo used in isolation really didn’t do the scene sufficient justice.
I wish Musical Theatre Salisbury all the very best as they venture into their brave new world and completely agree with the programme notes provided by new Chairman, Martyn Davies, that change is inevitable (in fact my saying is that the only constant in life is change!). Judging from this production I can confirm that the newly named MTS is in safe hands.