Magic of Wizard of Oz leaps from book onto the Opera House stage

Magic of Wizard of Oz leaps from book onto the Opera House stage
Wizard of Oz. Picture: John Allen

THE very first time I took our little girl into Cork city, I remember her looking out over the rooftops of buildings that seemed to stretch on and on forever, in front of her little eyes.

She looked at me and said: “Is this the city? But where is the Emerald mom?”

Wizard of Oz at Cork Opera House. Picture: John Allen
Wizard of Oz at Cork Opera House. Picture: John Allen

The Wizard of Oz had been a regular bedtime story and like any fairytale to a three-year-old child, she believed in it 100%.

At the weekend the tale leapt from the pages of her well-read, well-worn storybook and onto the stage of the Cork Opera House in the most spectacular fashion.

On arrival, there was a giant sparkling ruby red slipper over the doorway of the venue, which added to the magic that awaited inside — where the most lustrous red velvet curtains hung in the auditorium.

Rewind 12 months ago and we had been enthralled, entertained, excited by ‘Annie’. How could they top that? Would they top that?

Of course, they did… because, because, because, because, because…..

Wizard of Oz Show Opens at the Cork Opera HousePictured at the opening weekend of the Wizard of Oz at the Cork Opera House were: Rhona McMahon, Passage West, Jack O'Leary, Passage West, Daisie Dorman, Ballinhassig, Ethan O'Leary, Passage West and Alicia, Castlemartyr.
Wizard of Oz Show Opens at the Cork Opera HousePictured at the opening weekend of the Wizard of Oz at the Cork Opera House were: Rhona McMahon, Passage West, Jack O'Leary, Passage West, Daisie Dorman, Ballinhassig, Ethan O'Leary, Passage West and Alicia, Castlemartyr.

From the get go, the professionalism of this production was clearly evident.

As the chief executive Eibhlin Gleeson points out in her welcome message, in the programme, the team worked through hurricanes, snow storms and heat waves over the past 12 months, bringing it all together.

The stage/setting/design was magnificent in its simplicity. Sometimes there was just a wagon on stage, other times there was a storm bunker or green clothes on a washing line! But always you felt like you were there, in Kansas, on the Yellow Brick Road, in the Emerald City.

Equally simplistic was the lighting. A string of lights here, dropped flickering paper lanterns there, green hued lights — all so effective.

Wizard of Oz Show Opens at the Cork Opera HousePictured at the opening weekend of the Wizard of Oz at the Cork Opera House were: The Tett family from Passage West including Gary, Ciara, Hollie, Robbie and Harry.
Wizard of Oz Show Opens at the Cork Opera HousePictured at the opening weekend of the Wizard of Oz at the Cork Opera House were: The Tett family from Passage West including Gary, Ciara, Hollie, Robbie and Harry.

And the music — from the instrumentals, to the vocals, to the lyrics — it was all spot on. It was wonderful to hear ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’, ‘Follow the Yellow Brick Road’ and ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’.

But the entire musical offering was amazing, not just the old time favourites.

The live band added to the tension, the fun, the energy of the production. We loved all the choreography too.

The acting was superb. Home grown talent, joined national stars and international actors, all combined to form the perfect cast.

Wizard of Oz Show Opens at the Cork Opera HousePictured at the opening weekend of the Wizard of Oz at the Cork Opera House were: Cathal, Kieran, Diane and Aoife O'Connor, Carrignavar.
Wizard of Oz Show Opens at the Cork Opera HousePictured at the opening weekend of the Wizard of Oz at the Cork Opera House were: Cathal, Kieran, Diane and Aoife O'Connor, Carrignavar.

Dorothy was performed by Simone Collins, who played the doe-eyed innocent child, whisked away to another world. It was her first outing on the Opera House stage and hopefully, it won’t be her last.

As for the Tin Man, The Scarecrow and Lion, wow! Simply wow! The way they came to life on stage, you truly believed you were in the presence of non beings!

The Wicked Witch of the West by George Hanover, was outstanding too. She was so believably horrid, but she was likeable too, in all her nastiness and misery.

We didn’t think Toto would steal the show… but he sure did. It wasn’t a real four legged friend this year — it was played by actor Joshua Ellershaw. At times you forgot he was a human, such were his mannerisms, his little movements, facial expressions, his shuffling on all fours across the stage… no easy feat to achieve.

There were also amazing performances from Glinda/Aunty Em, played by Clare Barrett and Guard/ Uncle Henry, played by Michael Grennell.

Wizard of Oz Show Opens at the Cork Opera HousePictured at the opening weekend of the Wizard of Oz at the Cork Opera House were: Richard O'Regan, Tower Street, Cork, with Nicola and Shay Power, Ballincollig.
Wizard of Oz Show Opens at the Cork Opera HousePictured at the opening weekend of the Wizard of Oz at the Cork Opera House were: Richard O'Regan, Tower Street, Cork, with Nicola and Shay Power, Ballincollig.

The Wizard of Oz/ Marvel was performed by Malcom Adams, again a great choice.

And we can’t forget to mention the ensemble and the junior ensemble — who brought life and colour and huge energy to the stage in an unforgettable manner. The costumes/makeup were superb too. From the tin man’s metal suit, the scarecrow’s straw stuffed ensemble, to Dorothy’s gingham dress, Glinda’s sparking crown, to Toto’s little ears and wagging tail. It was easy to see the thought and huge volume of work that went into every garment, every stitch. As to my favourite parts — there were almost too many to mention. I loved the storm scene — the tension was built so simply by the music, as people struggled against the ‘wind’ to get to safety in the bunker. I loved every second of the journey along the yellow brick road, as Dorothy met her three comrades.

I melted too at the rendition of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’, which made the hairs stand on the back of my neck.

And of course the clicking of the heels — we couldn’t leave out that iconic moment from the tale.

Another highlight was the melting of the wicked witch… who left nothing more than her hat on the stage! Well, there’s always a little bit of magic going on at the Opera House.

I loved how Oz was brought to the stage too — and how he was then exposed for the fraud he was! So cleverly thought out and delivered.

The whole production stayed true to the original — but put the Opera House’s own stamp on it. Well done to Director Wayne Jordan and his team for another memorable show.

After all, there’s no place like… the Opera House in summertime.

The Wizard of Oz runs at Cork Opera House until August 26. For tickets see www.corkoperahouse.ie.

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