NEWCASTLE Entertainment Centre will host the premiere of the world's first arena production of the musical The Wizard of Oz, with a 700-member ensemble of young local performers backing the actors playing the main characters.
The musical is being staged from April 26 to 28 by Brisbane theatre company Harvest Rain, which is Australia's largest not-for-profit youth arts organisation and producer of live entertainment.
Since 2014, Harvest Rain has annually toured to the country's major cities musicals that feature large ensembles of young people who live in and around the cities. The shows have included works such as Hairspray and Grease, and are mainly presented in school holidays between April and the following January.
While the musicals have previously had their inaugural seasons in Brisbane, Harvest Rain's artistic director, Tim O'Connor, has been impressed by the quality of the Newcastle performers and decided to premiere The Wizard of Oz here.
And the enthusiasm of young Hunter people for the musicals is shown by the fact that the ensemble members are aged eight to 21. O'Connor noted that when auditions for the show were held in Newcastle last year many of the applicants were young adults who had very much enjoyed their experiences and wanted to be part of the team again.
Several weekend rehearsals have been held in Newcastle since the team was chosen, with major rehearsals beginning at the start of the school holidays on April 12. The ensemble team get to play the story's very colourful and different characters, including Munchkins, poppies, Emerald City residents, Winkies and Jitterbugs. And they keep changing their appearances with the help of more than 3000 costumes and 2500 wigs.
Impressed by the quality of the Newcastle performers, Tim O'Connor decided to premiere The Wizard of Oz here.
The cast is headed by Simon Gallaher as the title character. Gallaher, an actor and director, staged and appeared in several musicals, mainly Gilbert and Sullivan works, that played at Newcastle's Civic Theatre between 1994 and 2002.
Dorothy, a country girl who is blown by a strong wind into space and onto the land of Oz, is portrayed by Carly Bettinson, an 18-year-old graduate of Harvest Rain's Brisbane Academy of Musical Theatre in her first major professional role. The other principals are the three Oz figures who help Dorothy - Chris Geoghegan as the Scarecrow, Michael Nunn as the Tinman, Josh Whitten as the Lion - and Aurelie Roque as Glinda, the Good Witch, and Bil Heit as the Wicked Witch of the West.
Tim O'Connor notes that this production has some very different staging elements to those of the previous arena shows, making use, for example, of new technology. There is, for example, a 9-metre high LED Imax screen around the back of the set, with wall-to-wall interactive animations that will bring to life the land of Oz and its different venues, including Munchkinland and Emerald City. And, while the story sticks close to that of the classic 1939 film that had Judy Garland as Dorothy, it has a darker, albeit fanciful and engaging edge, as well as the swinging feel of a rock concert, and will, says O'Connor, delight the young at heart as well as young people.
The popularity of The Wizard of Oz is shown through bookings for the Newcastle staging. Shows at Newcastle Entertainment Centre were initially announced for two days. But ticket sales have led to a staging on a third day.
The musical has performances on Friday, April 26, at 7pm, Saturday, April 27, at 1pm and 6.30pm, and Sunday, April 28, at 1pm. Ticket prices range from $49 to $109, plus family and group rates. Bookings can be made through Ticketek.com or by ringing 4921 2121.
THE popularity of Australian musical theatre and opera performers Marina Prior and David Hobson is shown by the selling out, in most cases well in advance, of tours of their show The Two of Us: Up Close and Personal in 2017 and 2018. The 2018 Newcastle performance, at Wests New Lambton was one of those sold-out venues.
Now that the pair are touring again in 2019, tickets are still hard to obtain. Shows at Wests Nelson Bay Diggers on May 24 and at Belmont 16ft Sailing Club on May 25 are sold out. At time of writing, however, there are still more than a dozen seats at the larger Cessnock Performing Arts Centre on April 11 at 8pm.
Soprano Marina Prior is regarded as one of Australia's best musical theatre leading ladies, who received rave reviews for her performance in the original Australian production of The Phantom of the Opera, and performs each year at Carols by Candlelight.
Tenor David Hobson has played many roles for Opera Australia and, as well as musical theatre roles, has had a variety of other engaging performances, singing, for example for the Queen and at an AFL grand final.
The two met on their first professional production, The Pirates of Penzance, in 1984, and have been friends since. They have enjoyed playing in so many different musicals that they had difficulty choosing songs for their two hours, plus interval, show, which is a mix of solos, duets, storytelling and chatting.
The shows represented include The Phantom of the Opera,Les Miserables, West Side Story, Guys and Dolls, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and La Boheme, as well as favourites from their award-winning albums.
Ticket prices for the CPAC show range from $34.95 to $64.95. Bookings: 4993 4266.