The Wizard of Oz is a much loved, iconic work, which has many deep cultural memories for audiences. It is a brave team that set out to adapt the classic. Yet, a new and acclaimed version of The Wizard of Oz, starring Anthony Warlow, is currently touring Australia. Dance Informa caught up with the associate choreographer, Richard Roe, to find out more.
“Andrew Lloyd Webber has written some incredible new music for this production,” Roe reveals. “Particularly for the Witch. It shows her in a completely different light. What Andrew wanted was for our witch to be relatable to, and indeed, the other characters in this show are also contemporised. After all, Dorothy is a stroppy teenager from the beginning, and along the way, she learns life lessons. We always think that the grass is always greener, we all also have insecurities, and we don’t believe we have characteristics to take us through life. During this Wizard of Oz, we realise that we do have what we need, if you listen to your heart.”
Roe is associate choreographer in a collaboration with Arlene Phillips. This requires him to go and teach and rehearse the show in other locations. “We have the done the same thing for the U.S. tour, and in Paris for the French tour,” he explains. “And we are now doing the same thing in Australia. Arlene is choreographing so much stuff. Normally, Arlene would fly out toward the end of rehearsals. To add her words of wisdom and unique style, her choreographic fairy dust.”
Roe says that they have made each of the landscapes that Dorothy visits have distinct physical styles of movement. “Our Munchkins are very earthy, grounded but excitable,” he says. “Our emerald citizens are 1920s art deco elegant and sharp, and our Winkies very contemporary-based, very strong, so that you almost can’t tell who is male and female. The reason we do this is so when we see Dorothy in these environments, we suddenly realise she is a stranger in these places. We realise she is the odd one out. We instantly feel that Dorothy and her friends are outsiders in our community, and normally it takes a page of dialogue to do this, and we can do it in a few moves.”
Roe has been working with Australian performers for this version of Oz. “There are differences between Australian and UK dancers,” he says. “I think because in Australia, you don’t have the abundance of productions that we have in the West End, Australian dancers have to work so much harder to procure a job in the few shows that are running. Sometimes in London, we find that our dancers have a sense of entitlement. Here, everyone wants to learn when they come to work. They continue to dedicate themselves to the show when it has opened because they have worked so hard to get there. I believe wherever you are, a dancer’s reputation is very important. You can have a great reputation, but as soon as you tarnish it, it takes a long time to change that. I love seeing the dancers here doing their own warm-up before the company warm-up begins — Pilates, ballet, jazz, contemporary. I think because we take our theatre for granted [in the UK], dancers turn up only five minutes before to drop their stuff.”
Roe suggests to aspiring dancers that they do as many different styles as they can, not sticking to their strengths. “As soon as you limit yourself to specific styles, you have limited yourself to only certain auditions,” he says. “If there is a style you are not comfortable with, go and do it.”
He adds, “And get those singing lessons in. I have auditioned the most beautiful dancers here in Australia, but if you can’t sing, there is not a place for you in a music theatre production.”
Catch The Wizard of Oz in your city. To find out more visit wizardofozthemusical.com.
By Tamara Searle of Dance Informa.