Flamboyant costumes, chirpy characters, colourful sets... The Wizard of Oz kept children in the audience mesmerised

They’re off to see the wizard. The wonderful wizard of Oz. Dorothy, the lion, the tin man and the scarecrow. It’s a long and perilous journey, infested with wicked witches and winged monkeys, chirpy children and flamboyant costumes, grating music and inane lyrics.

Recently staged at the Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall, the Wizard Of Oz show was a cleverly put together production, bringing together local and international talent. Staged by the Youngstars2.com, a group founded by Director Brian Laul (who also played the scarecrow) the show was preceded a five day workshop for the 80 local children in the cast.

Laul travels with about a dozen cast and crew, which enables him to take ‘The Wizard Of Oz Show’ across the world. So far they have done a whopping 3,000 shows. In each location, Laul recruits a local cast, enabling him to put together a huge performance in about a week. This way, his cast benefits from the travelling, and lessons learnt from every location. The children they work with in each city have the benefit of participating in a large format, international show. And audiences are guaranteed, considering each child on stage draws at proud parents and family.

However, it also means the show has to be constructed with a set of easy building blocks that can be hurriedly stacked together. The result is a performance that is lacking in soul. It’s entertaining, sure, with plenty of ‘put you hands in the air, and do the twist’ moves for children in the audience. They do the birdie dance. They do the Macarena. They even do the hokey pokey. But after putting your right leg in, and out, and shaking it all about, you start to wonder just when they’re going to get back on that yellow brick road, and get on with the story.

In an attempt to keep the story simple, the original has been pruned and cut, till the dialogues and lyrics are flat. Quote: Do you know, Do you know, Do you know, Do you know – the pain in my heart.” Who said it? Well, it could have been the Tinman, Lion or Scarecrow. Or a member of the audience. When they get to Oz, it would probably be a smart move for Dorothy and her motley crew to ask the wizard for an actual script. Right now, their crazy-quilt of songs, ideas and dances is barely held together by Frank Baum original storyline, and hope. “Somewhere over the rainbow, there’s a script…”

Although the backdrop appears fairly pedestrian at first glance, it proves to be flexible and hard working, incorporating a huge screen to help the cast tell their story. The costumes are cheery, positively blazing with bling. Flowers in felt petals, parrots with vivid red beaks, witches with madly-tangled wigs.

This version features the Tin Man as a rapper, wile the Lion sings the blues, the Scarecrow is a country singer, and the Wicked Witch rocks. However the music is fairly uninspired, lyrics were largely incoherent and it looked like there was a surprising amount of lip-syncing. More suggestions for the Wizard Of Oz wish list?

The children in the audience had a blast. And as many of you are likely to say, “Isn’t that what matters?” Perhaps, but truly engaging and memorable children’s theatre — like enduring children’s fiction – should appeal to a crossover audience. To presume otherwise is to dismiss the intelligence and imaginative capacity of children and fail to recognize the extraordinary potential of theatre.

The show Wizard Of Oz show was presented by the Y’s Men Club of the East in association with Hindustan University in aid of Mellow Circle Prathyasha.

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Shonali MuthalalyMay 11, 2012