The Wizard of Oz – Basking in the warm glow of nostalgia. (Theatre Reiew)

The Wizard of Oz

The Capitol Theatre, 30 Dec 2017 to 4 Feb 2018

You can gab your tickets here.

The word ‘nostalgia’ comes from two Greek roots: nóstos (“return home”) and ἄλγος, álgos (“longing”). It can be defined as longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed. Nostalgia is a is a sentiment of loss and displacement but it is equally a romance with one’s own fantasy – surely part of the appeal of the online romance is its ‘groundedness’ in nostalgic love. The cinematic representation of nostalgia is a double exposure. The superimposition of two images; of home and abroad, of past and present and of the dream and everyday life. Nostalgia loses its power when forced. It exists in our minds periphery vision. A single image breaks the frame and burns the surface. In this way The Wizard of Oz is the pinnacle of this nostalgic treatment. Initially dismissed as a derivative and plagiaristic American copy of Alice in Wonderland (written forty years earlier) the books relationship to pop culture, propaganda and nostalgia have allowed it to be one of the mightiest emblems of American cultural dominance. If we can’t win you with the book, we will get you with the songs, the film, the movie stars, the camp value and now the stage play. The book has come full circle and received that great nostalgic-popcultural, politically conservative nod from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice with their instantly recognizable endorsements additions. This Australian version of what ever you think the original is, is a beautifully packaged, thrillingly staged delightful romp into the realms of nostalgia, the pinnacle of which is the delightful and talented Samantha Dodemaide’s rendition of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ that simply and completely embodies the complexities of mass historical emotion.

It does not follow that nostalgia is antimodern. It is coetaneous with modernity; a shadow or double mirror of modernity. Nostalgia is the perfect narrative filter to transform local longing into universal principle. Supporting this idea, we find L.F. Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz half way through the historical US transition from slavery to segregation. Indeed, in Kansas, an 1889 mandate forced segregation between blacks and whites in schools and in 1913 Kansas City officially adopted the Jim Crow laws. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz cannot avoid the ‘white-ness’ of its origins, and they are there for all to see, plain as day in this current production of The Wizard of Oz. Sure the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion are gay (in a joyous celebration of counter culture) but there is no hiding the neo-conservative values of white-wielding power over industrialization, morality and nostalgia, even with the Aussie influence of the likes of Anthony Warlow breaking through the American-ness. Nostalgia appears to be longing for a place but it is actually a yearning for a different time – the slower rhythms of our dreams. In a broad sense nostalgia is a rebellion against time itself by turning events into collective mythologies, or constructed narratives that serve contemporary purpose. Nostalgia is also about the relationship between individual biography and the biography of groups and nations. In here, there lies an unacknowledged influence. The fantasies of the past, determined by the needs of the present can have a direct impact on the realities of the future. Is not the 2016 American election a fine example of a certain nostalgia? The voice of a separatist, defaming and ecclesiastically moral voice violently influencing futures, the result of which is a record breaking corporate tax break.

The Wizard of Oz can’t escape it’s debilitating white-ness. ‘Longing’ is what we all share, yet ‘the return to our home’ divides us. It is a promise to rebuild an ideal home that lies at the core of many powerful ideologies today, tempting us to relinquish critical thinking for emotional bonding. The danger of nostalgia is that it confuses the actual home with the imaginary one. This ideal is so powerful, soldiers can be encouraged to die for an imaginary homeland constructed out of narrative. Outbreaks of nostalgia often follow revolutions. Just as the Baby Boomers successful interruption of the moral hold of the 1950’s led to a profound sense of nostalgic longing for that period rarely based in historical fact. The 1950’s may have been wonderful for straight white men with no creative, scientific or intellectual ambition, but they were a stagnant swamp of impending doom for the rest of society. The most common currency of the globalism exported all over the world is money and popular culture. Nostalgia speaks in riddles and puzzles, trespassing across the borders between education, inculcation and countries. It is essential to face it, in order to avoid becoming its next victim or use it to victimize.

This latest incarnation of The Wizard of Oz is beautifully made, divinely performed and appropriately true to its multiple forbears.  Anthony Warlow does not let us down as The Wizard (and Professor Marvel) while Lucy Durack plays Glinda the Good Witch, and Jemma Rix is The Wicked Witch of the West each reprising their roles from Wicked. Rising star Samantha Dodemaide makes a fantastic debut as Dorothy, easily evoking the relational connection with children intended by Baum. Eli Cooper plays the role of the Scarecrow, Alex Rathgeber is the Tin Man, and John Xintavelonis plays the Lion to roaring (!) success. The sense of perfection that pervades the production is true to its problems and strengths. There is no doubt that this production is a marvellous rendition of the original, perfect for adults and children alike. Go, take the family, and have a wonderful evening.  Just keep your wits about you as you sink into all those warm memories.