Off to see the wizard, the wonderful ‘Wizard of Oz’

Katie Handmarsh tries out red shoes ready for the role of Dorothy with the rest of the cast in rehusals for the Berwick Acadamy production of the Wizard of Oz
Katie Handmarsh tries out red shoes ready for the role of Dorothy with the rest of the cast in rehusals for the Berwick Acadamy production of the Wizard of Oz

LAST year they took audiences to the streets of London with ‘My Fair Lady’ but hold on tight as this year for their annual musical the students of Berwick Academy want to transport you over the rainbow to the land of Oz.

The school has won great acclaim in recent years, with shows like ‘We Will Rock You’ generating a buzz around the town but rest assured they’re not resting on their laurels as with drama teacher Paula Griffiths in the director’s chair and Carole Robb behind the piano as musical director, they are tackling one of the most famous films of all time, ‘The Wizard of Oz’.

The MGM favourite has recently enjoyed a West End revival – the offspring of Lord Lloyd Webber’s ‘Over The Rainbow’ TV search for Dorothy – and there was also some keen competition from the Academy students for the leading role.

Eventually, the honour of slipping into the iconic ruby slippers was bestowed on the shoulders of Katie Hindmarsh, who as a longtime fan of the 1939 film and its signature song, is excited to hit The Maltings stage with her cast mates on Thursday, March 29 and Friday, March 30.

“Dorothy is a great part to play,” she told ‘The Guide’, during rehearsals last week. “She’s quite feisty and knows her own mind.

“Like many others I love Judy Garland and the way she made the role her own but I want to play Dorothy less doe-eyed.

“I’m so excited about singing ‘Over The Rainbow’, it’s one of my favourite songs of all time.

“With the film being so well loved and iconic, it is quite hard to try and completely do our own thing with it but I think people will notice a difference.”

One of the major differences between Berwick Academy’s ‘Wizard of Oz’ and the MGM film is the fact that the Wizard will be played by a girl.

Step forward Shannon Thorpe who was last seen alongside Katie in BACStage’s much talked-about ‘Be My Baby’ in November.

“It’s very interesting to be playing the Wizard, not least because he’s meant to be a man,” she said. “We’ve had to change the whole script and I’ve made the Wizard Irish. It’s good that he isn’t actually that nice so I get to show different sides of the character and we’ve also got an eye-catching leopard print on order for me to wear!

“I’d say that our experiences producing and staging ‘Be My Baby’ have been a big help with the show. We’ve got some younger students in the cast and they get distracted in rehearsals just like I did when I first started. Doing ‘Be My Baby’ has given us all great rehearsal discipline.”

Someone else involved in ‘Be My Baby’ – ranked as third best show of 2011 by ‘The Guide – was Joy Hubbard, and as well as taking on the role of the loveable Scarecrow, she has choreographed most of ‘The Wizard of Oz’.

Like Katie she said she felt it was important that as well as incorporating some of the famous footwork from the film, she could put her own dance stamp on the show. “It is quite hard taking the choreography from such a well known film and doing something different with it. I’ve tried to make it quite unique while also including some of the iconic steps.

“My dance background has also come in handy being the Scarecrow as he has a strange way of moving around. I think it’s a good part for a girl to play and being one of the youngest and a bit ditzy it’s perfect for me.”

If you go along to see ‘Wizard of Oz’ next week you’ll get to see two more of the ‘Be My Baby’ alumni, Lorna Robertson and Caitlin Mutch, do battle as Good Witch Glenda and the Wicked Witch of the West.

Caitlin said Glenda was a refreshing acting change for her.

“It’s good not to be typecast as the baddie,” she admitted. “People will get to see a different side to me and like the other girls I’ve tried not to take too much inspiration from the film. I haven’t watched it since we started rehearsing; I think it’s good that we perform the characters in our way.”

Doing that is a slightly tougher task for Lorna, with original Wicked Witch of the West Margaret Hamilton having some unforgettable catchphrases.

“I actually find it hard being so horrible and I’m really not looking forward to having my face painted green. I do get to say the ‘I’ll get you and your little dog too’ line and it’s difficult not doing it in the way it’s done in the film as it’s so famous.”