Getting to know Samantha Leigh Dodemaide – Australia’s new Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz
Since its initial release in 1939, The Wizard of Oz has left its mark on society. There’s just something about the story of Dorothy Gale and her journey that audiences just adore, and it is constantly revisited in television, artwork, and even several stage adaptations. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 2011 London Palladium production is no exception to that rule, with minor adjustments to the original show bringing a contemporary flair to the much-loved classic. Australian audiences will see this very production in Sydney and Brisbane later this year and with so much excitement around the principal casting, I was thrilled to speak to the absolutely lovely Samantha Leigh Dodemaide, who has just been announced as our Dorothy!
Samantha has been active in the Australian musical theatre industry for quite some time, often understudying leading roles and performing in the ensemble for various professional productions. Dorothy marks Samantha’s first lead role in a major musical, beating 400 other auditionees for the part.
First of all, congratulations on landing such an amazing part! I’m sure you’re ecstatic!
So excited. I think excited is an understatement really!
I think everyone should get to know you a bit better – I mean, you’re about to take on such an iconic role! Did you have a silly story or fun fact you could share?
Well, I’m a musical theatre geek. I love it so much, and I’m quite known for turning a rap song or a football theme song or the national anthem into an operetta or a musical theatre Les Mis-style song. It’s kind of my party trick that my friends love getting me to do! My most popular requested is Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me,” they love that.
Why did you decide to audition for this role?
When I heard it being announced, as corny as this sounds, something within my tummy kinda fluttered a little bit. I don’t know, I felt an instant connection, as I’m sure a lot of us did because it’s a dream role, really. When I saw it announced, I thought “oh my gosh, I wonder if they’ve cast it yet,” because sometimes in shows they already pre-cast a role, and I was hoping that it hadn’t been. And then when I got an audition for it, I just thought “gosh, I could connect to this role so much”. It’s really, really lovely when you find a role that is already within you, you know? I’m a strong believer that they are the right roles for you. If it feels right, it is right. A lot of the roles I’ve been able to play or understudy in my career so far, I’ve felt that connection with. And they’re always quite strong minded, determined [characters]. I already felt the connection with her, so I knew I had to audition and unleash my version of Dorothy!
Do you remember the first experience you had with Musical Theatre?
I have loved music theatre from the moment I could walk. I was so theatrical growing up, and I’d always make my lovely grandparents sit down and watch me perform. My grandmother actually had a Tom Jones record in her house, and I always used to create theatrical performances to it. I grew up going to a musical theatre school in Melbourne called the Children’s Performing Company of Australia, and was just exposed to so many different shows and a variety of musicals that it’s just always been a part of my life. It’s so bizarre, because no one in my family is theatrical! I’m not really sure where I got it from, but I’ve always known it’s what I wanted to do and I’ve always loved it. As I said, I listen to theatre tunes in my spare time – that’s the kind of person that I am!
Besides Dorothy, are there any other roles you’d love to play at some point?
That’s a really tricky question, because I believe that the roles find us. Of course, there are so many great female roles – and male roles – that I’d be up for as well! Who knows where the future is going – but I would love to get my hands on something that is quite gritty and in depth. I love playing strong women: a very determined, bold, confident role. Or [a role with] something to learn – I love playing roles that have a journey or a discovery in them. I don’t know! I love working, I’d be very happy to continue working for the rest of my life. If I could work in the Arts for the rest of my career, I’d be happy with that.
Have rehearsals started?
Not yet, we start at the start of October. I don’t know who the rest of the cast are, so I can’t wait to meet them. But I do believe that before I start rehearsals, I get a little bit of puppy training with our wonderful Toto. So I can’t wait for that, some one-on-one Dorothy and Toto bonding time! I have to say, that’s one of the most exciting parts about the show for me, getting to work with the wonderful Toto.
It was announced earlier this year that the roles of The Wizard, Glinda and the Wicked Witch are going to be played by Anthony Warlow, Lucy Durack and Jemma Rix (respectively). Are you looking forward to working alongside such a star-studded cast?
I can’t believe that I will be working with the three of them. All 3 of them are theatre royalty. And I’m so excited for what I’m going to be able to learn from each of them and getting to know them is going to be really wonderful. It’s so crazy that I’ve spent my whole life idolising people in musical theatre, and slowly my bucket list of all the people I’ve idolised my whole life I’m getting to work with. You know, I got to work with Caroline O’Connor in Anything Goes a couple of years ago, which was just a dream come true. And now to work with Anthony and Jemma and Lucy is going to be so thrilling. We’re so lucky to have such wonderful leading ladies to look up to. I’ve been so fortunate already to be able to understudy so many great leading females – Verity Hunt Ballard, Debora Krizak, Anita Louise Combe, Gretel Scarlett. They’re wonderful, hardworking women. And most of all, just like Jemma and Lucy, they’re really lovely people as well, not only talented.
Have you had any big roles such as Dorothy before?
The only other role I’ve been able to call my own was Violet, which I performed at the Hayes theatre. Blue Saint productions produced it in 2015. That was a real wonderful experience, it was such a beautiful story to tell. I felt very grateful to be given that opportunity, to step into the spotlight for a moment with that. Nothing on the main stage, but I’ve been so fortunate to understudy and I love understudying because it really is a learning platform. Some wonderful roles that I’ve been able to understudy were Cathy Seldon in Singing in the Rain, Charity Hope Valentine in Sweet Charity, Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes and Cassie in A Chorus Line. They’re all dream roles really, so being able to say I got to learn the material and rehearse it and be there in the wings if anything unfortunate happened or anyone fell sick is such an honour.
It’s really admirable that you’ve understudied so many roles – I feel like understudies and swings are often overlooked in performances.
Swings are the most important and valuable members of the onstage community in a company, and I think it’s definitely overlooked how valuable and important they are. Without them, the show couldn’t go on, it’s plain and simple. I have so much respect for someone who can swing and understudy because they really hold the show together. It’s a lot of pressure, a different kind of pressure, a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. So we’re very lucky to have them in shows.
What do you think is the most important message of The Wizard of Oz for audiences?
It’s so relatable to everyone in the audience. The message of it is that whatever we want to achieve, we have whatever we need already within us. And I think we forget that as people, you know? We’re always striving to be better, or thinking we’re not good enough, or comparing ourselves. But really, we have all that we need already within our grasp. Sometimes we just need a little bit of encouragement or a reminder to focus our attention on to that. In Dorothy’s story, along the way she discovers her courage and her brain and her heart, and then at the end she realises that actually, that was within her the whole time and all she needed was the things already around her. I also love the importance it places on family. I mean, a family is so important in the community and friends. And I think the message of this is very important – to value what we have when we have it.
Are there any huge differences between the film and this stage show?
This version is so exciting, I think the audience is going to be really thrilled with some of the minor additions to the show. Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber have written 5 new amazing songs that compliment whats already here from the 1939 film, so that is going to be a wonderful surprise to anyone who hasn’t heard those songs already. I think that there are some other little surprises that I don’t want to reveal too much of to you! The set, the costumes are just incredible in this production. it’s going to be a visual spectacular for the eye, I think. It’s same-same but different – it’s a little bit more contemporary which I think the audience will love. It will deliver all the nostalgic feelings for the people who love the classic but also bring new life to it.
Do you think that a musical set in the 1930s can still be culturally relevant in 2017? Why?
Dorothy was written far beyond her years. She was not the stereotyped 1939 female. she was strong, determined, outspoken. She wasn’t afraid to go for what she wanted, you know? She’s definitely a dreamer, and I think that reflects in today’s society very well. Women are now, more than ever, equal to men and I think Dorothy was a great example of that in 1939. Also, for what I was saying before, the story is relevant to now and for the future. We sometimes forget all the wonderful things that we have, either within ourselves or in our lives. And I think that is something we always need reminding of, to be grateful for the things we have. That won’t ever die, that message.
Did you have a favourite song or scene from the show?
Look, I think that it’s fair to say my favourite song would have to be ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. I am really looking forward to the scenes with the Wicked Witch of the West. I can’t wait to have some scenes with Toto on stage, that’s going to be so exciting.
Do you have any advice for aspiring actors and performers trying to make it in the business?
Just work hard and love it. I think that with the combination of determination and heart that anything’s possible. There is a lot of “no” out there, but at the same time, there is a lot of “yes”. I think the people that succeed the most are the ones who really love what they’re doing and work hard at it.
The Wizard of Oz begins performances in Brisbane in November before continuing on to the Capitol Theatre, Sydney in December. Tickets and more information are available at Wizardofozthemusical.com.