The Wizard of Oz – Riverside Theatres, Parramatta

An eight year old girl named Mackenzie was living for Packemin’s production of Wizard of Oz. She hung over the balcony of the dress circle to get closer to the action.

Wizard of Oz
Laura Murphy and Jimmy Rees in The Wizard of Oz, presented by Packemin Productions

She laughed at the funny cowardice of the lion (“Mum, he’s afraid of a rabbit!”). She cried when Dorothy thought all was lost and she couldn’t get home. And she left with a huge smile on her face, waving to the ensemble during their curtain call.

And that will always be the point of a show like The Wizard of Oz. Helmed by Neil Gooding and performed at Riverside Theatres with a professional leading cast and a massive collection of community ensemble players, the performance is bursting with playfulness, a loving romp through Oz while retelling one of our most beloved stories.

Everyone on that stage, without exception, is having a great time. Laura Murphy is Dorothy, bringing all her sensibility from children’s television into a warm and wide-eyed charmer, all innocence and sweetness and vocal clarity. Her rag-tag bunch of Ozian friends are heavy on the slapstick (the audience shrieked with laughter) and yet still maintained the integrity of the show. The Cowardly Lion (Adam Scicluna) earned the biggest laugh of the night, while Luke Joslin’s Tin Man was a source of that wonderful wry humor and delightful abandon that only the Tin Man can be. The Scarecrow (Jimmy Rees) – Dorothy will miss him most of all – was uninhibited, and beloved by the young Parramatta audience.

Dorothy’s arrival in Oz explodes with cartoonish colour with a crash of a house on a witch and an explosion of bodies on stage. Children wear bright wigs and costumes, nail their call-and-response and choreography, and Oz becomes this warm, strange exciting place that’s oddly captivating, even if you’ve visited Oz before – even that other, darker, slicker Oz of Elphaba and Galinda and Fiyero. This one sparkles, this one is uncomplicated. This one is a Kansas girl in a dreamland. It’s not a fancy or expensive production, but it’s fun.

[pull_left]Packemin, with their straightforward and faithful adaptation of a classic show, are doing something really important out at Riverside Theatres and having a great time doing it[/pull_left]

This show has a purpose and it meets this purpose with precision. In the foyer before the show, at intermission, and afterwards, the audience was mingling with each other, calling out hellos to friends and extended family, chatting excitedly. Family theatre brings communities together just by being there for the kids in the ensemble, for the families in the areas, for anyone into the arts. When people are spending their Friday nights talking about the Good Witch of the North and the Wicked Witch of the West flying through the air via harness, when kids are happily talking about the cute dog on stage, you are creating a space for togetherness, for engagement.

Packemin, with their straightforward and faithful adaptation of a classic show, are doing something really important out at Riverside Theatres and having a great time doing it. Go along. Take the kids. Just relax and enjoy the story you’ve grown up with, follow that yellow brick road, and get a load of that cast of super-cute kids playing Munchkins.

You will leave with a smile.

Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and is the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

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