If Katie Potter could ask the Wizard (the wonderful Wizard of Oz that is) for anything, it would be luck.
‘It’s really exciting because I’ve only had like one big role before, and it wasn’t really the lead. This is like my first lead role,’ says the 16-year-old, who plays Dorothy. ‘I really like Dorothy, she’s really fun to play, and it’s really nice to wear the dress! She’s a nice upbeat character, and before I had to play a murderer. But now I get to play a really nice, floaty character. And the songs that she sings as well are really great.’
The Doha Player’s latest production sees a large cast, including scores of children, elaborate costumes and fun special effects. Their show follows closely the movie version, making it an upbeat, classic tale.
‘Everybody knows the story of the Wizard of Oz. And if you watch the start of the movie, it actually says it will never grow old and it will never ever die,’ says Angela Walton, the director. She brought Miss Saigon to Qatar last year, but this year wanted to try her hand at something a bit more drenched in feel-good glitter. ‘It’s been super super fun. The music, the children, the adults, the costumes, it’s just great fun. It’s just such a lovely crowd of people, it’s just so rewarding.’
There’s even a bit with a dog.
‘You might want to ask Dorothy about the dog. We’ve got a real live dog, the real Toto,’ says Mark Slade, who plays the Cowardly Lion. ‘So that’s quite fun. Don’t work with animals and children, and we’re doing both!’
So far Toto’s been trying to be on his best behavior according to cast mates.
‘The dog is pretty well trained, he’s quite amazing. Basically he’s using a lot of treats.’ says Stuart Walton, Angela’s husband and the productions jack-of-all- trades. ‘At the moment when the actors are jumping around he sometimes gets a bit excited and thinks ‘ok this is the time to bark’. Or the one time, there’s a scene where Dorothy falls asleep in the poppy field, and she’s lying there with Toto next to her, and the other two have to pick her up. When they tried to pick her up, he just about attacked them! He was saving his mistress! It’s authentic.’
But it’s not all sunshine and munchkins on the yellow brick road: anyone who’s seen the show knows half the fun comes in being terrified, of either the Wicked Witch or her winged monkey minions.
‘If you ask my family, they’d say I was typecast!’ laughs Michele Hussey, who once her green makeup is applied transforms into the Wicked Witch of the West. ‘But they don’t really mean it. It is really far from who I am, because I teach kindergarten actually, and I’m used to being very nurturing and happy with kids and stuff. So having to be more serious and evil is very different for me. I never played the part of the evil one or the bad guy. I’ve really come to enjoy getting the kids to scream every time I laugh!’
A Doha Players veteran, she worked with Angela last year on Miss Saigon. But she says this production could well be even more popular.
‘I think having all the children involved [makes it] for a much broader audience. This is really uplifting and happy,’ she says. ‘I think it’s the journey [Dorothy] takes. It ends well for her. Even though there are some scary parts along the way, you don’t feel like she’s going to go to her demise. And you know, the good guy wins. People love stories like that.’
They also love to watch the Witch melt, in a scene which has become iconic ever since Margaret Hamilton first screeched ‘I’m melting!’ on screen. Hussey is taciturn about details of how they’re going to manage the scene in Qatar.
‘Should I tell you? It’s supposed to be a surprise! The stage crew, they’re working on how to make that happened,’ is all she’ll say. ‘But yes it is the classic Wizard of Oz with the exception of a few little surprises. I do melt in the end.’
Some of the surprises happen quickly too: although eminently quotable, both the stage and screen versions are full of funny little blink-and-you’ll-miss-them details.
‘I think the big chorus numbers are great. You see so much colour, because in this show the costumes are really the set—there are a lot of people on stage, so they will be the dominate factor,’ says Stuart. ‘Some of the lines are good as well. My favourite line is when they have the fight with the monkeys, and the scarecrow is lying on the ground, and his leg is over there and his chest is over there, and he says to the others ‘c’mon, help me put myself together.’ And the line they say is ‘that’s you all over.’ I just love that line. I think it will be so quick, the audience won’t get it quick enough.’
The Wizard of Oz is one of the most watched films of all time, even though when the film was initially released in 1939 it was a box office flop. One of the most expensive movies made by Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer up to that time, it was based on the book by L. Frank Baum, and has become one of the most enduring stories of the past century.
‘I think it’s one of those things where it’s for old and young,’ says Donald Rikley, who plays the Tin Man. ‘The older generation they all know this story as well, this is something they can bring their kids to and say ‘this is something we saw when we were kids, now you get to experience it as well’.’
The Wizard of Oz takes the stage at the Doha British School (formerly Montessori) March 14-15 and 21-22 at 7.30pm, March 16 and 23 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm, March 17 and 24 at 2.30pm. Tickets are QR100 for front three rows, QR75 general seating, available at THE One. For more information, email email@example.com