It’s said that you should never work with children or animals - whereas the latter may be true, audiences would be missing a treat if they ignored the up-and-coming talent of youth groups, and never was this more apparent than in the charming and wonderful Wizard of Oz, on stage this week as a result of the Stafford Gatehouse Theatre Summer School.
The opening night nerves were palpable, but it didn’t take long for the young performers to hit their stride and by the time they were on the road to Oz they had the audience were in the palm of their collective hand. Although a timid start at first from Emily Wilson as Dorothy, her confidence soared when joined by the other principals ahead of the twister scene that eventually catapulted the cast into Oz. Despite looking a few years their junior her performance commanded respect, as with a smile and heaps of stage presence she moved the story along at a great pace.
No such caution however from Ellie Gilbert as Aunt Em/Glinda or Eleanor Walker as Miss Gultch/Wicked Witch. Both obviously seasoned performers the characters were spot-on from their first step out, and Gilbert’s melodic soaring vocals in the Munchkinland sequence demonstrated quality beyond what you would expect for a children’s production.
The talent just kept coming, as Jack Anthony, Josh Labron and Dan Toney made-up the fantastically funny and loveable Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion respectively. All three were brilliant individually – Anthony’s boundless physicality, Toney’s comic timing and Labron’s old Hollywood style silky tones – but together they provided real heart and infectious charm.
Special mention must also go to Evan Jones whose meek Uncle Henry was to be expected, but who really came alive as the witty Emerald City Guard. Jack Allan Smith as Prof Marvel/Wizard also did a great job as the omniscient Oz.
The company had clearly worked hard, with numbers such as Merry Old Land of Oz and Jitterbug looking very slick, and character work throughout with the crows and monkeys being particular highlights.
With only 3 weeks of concentrated rehearsals you would forgive a much less professional show, but Director Elizabeth Rose, MD Ben Kennedy and Choreographer Verity Bray have created a hit from what could have easily been “just another kids show”.
Of particular note, too, are the set and brilliant traditional-meets-modern costumes which lend themselves to this retelling beautifully, as designed by Tim Heywood.
Ding, dong, the Wicked Witch is dead – but long live Stafford Gatehouse Theatre Summer School. Get tickets if you still can.
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