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Theatre Preview: The Wizard of Oz

Graduation can be a daunting time for many students – one filled with the uncertainty of the real world. But Blackpool acting student Amy Campbell is hitting the ground running, with the lead role in the Wizard of Oz at the Grand Theatre next week.

“I’ve been performing from a very young age and it’s always been a passion of mine to be on the stage,” says Campbell, who was a musical-obsessed child and nurtured her love for performance in amateur dramatics. The Wizard of Oz is the latest offering from Blackpool and Fylde Light Opera Company.

“I started BFLOC back in November and they’ve been incredible to work with,” says Campbell. “I felt so nervous joining an am-dram group, because it’s been years since I was in one, and BFLOC made me feel so welcome and I found my love for musicals all over again.”

Amy Campbell play Dorothy

BFLOC has been producing shows at the Grand Theatre and for over 30 years and has been established since 1950, making it one of the longest-running amateur musical theatre companies on the Fylde Coast. There’s little to distinguish them from professional touring companies and their last production, Little Shop of Horrors at Lowther Pavillion, was a triumph. Sophie Coulon, who starred as Audrey, stole the show. She’s been in the world of theatre since she was a child – her mum was a dancer and is now a costumier – and she’s been involved with BFLOC since 2006. For the Wizard of Oz, she’s sitting in the director’s chair for the first time for the company.

“I think it is a lot to do with the professionalism of the team you are working with, both on and off the stage,” she says, on how BFLOC manages to get such professional results. “Corners are never cut – absolutely everything from costume to sound – every detail is of the highest quality. The standard of BFLOC shows has always been exceptional so I think it just attracts more of the same.”

Coulon’s also runs Cou-Cou Theatre Productions with her sister Nikita. The Community Interest Company offers drama and musical theatre classes to all ages and abilities with its main ethos to build confidence. Producing annual productions for Cou-Cou, including last year’s children’s production Matilda the Musical, has given her plenty of directing experience – and she’s a dab hand at controlling a cast of children.

I’m playing the City Father Munchkin and I’ve got a really funny costume because it’s got a fat suit and a funny bowtie.

While BFLOC productions are largely adult, The Wizard of Oz features a children’s cast of munshkins, as well as a real dog in the role of Toto. The main difference in directing adults and children?

“I’d say the children’s rehearsals are more noisy!”

Nine-year-old Anaya is partially responsible.

“I’m playing the City Father Munchkin and I’ve got a really funny costume because it’s got a fat suit and a funny bowtie,” she says. “I’m excited for the show because it’s at the Grand Theatre so it’s really big and the adverts are on bus stops!”

The old adage of not working with animals or children isn’t a concern for Campbell.

Ernie plays Toto

“Absolutely not! I love a challenge and the experience has been so smooth,” she says. “The kids are brilliant and our Ernie who is playing Toto is a natural born star – with a huge obsession with Pepperoni.”

Taking on such a famous role, synonymous with one actress in particular, is more of a challenge. But Campbell is assured.

“Dorothy is such a classic role to take on, from being a little girl Judy Garland was one of my favourite actresses,” she says. “Watching Judy Garland play Dorothy is definitely a massive part of what I’m putting into my character – the boldness, the outspoken approach along with innocence that reminds the audience that she’s a young lady with such incredible qualities. To make the character my own, I feel it’s so important that I portray Dorothy’s clever, loving and fierce personality – just like her three friends she meets along the way.”

A cast of 70 performers will bring the story to life, as Dorothy and Toto journey through Oz encountering witches, munchkins, tin men, lions and tigers and bears. Widely recognised as one of the best family films of all time, the 1939 movie musical won the Academy Awards for best score and best song for Over the Rainbow.

“There is a real buzz in rehearsals, and it is made extra special as we have parents and their children who will be performing on stage together for the first time,” says Rhiannon Jones, BFLOC chair. “This stage show is full of all the classic songs from the movie that everyone knows and loves. Together with the addition of stunning orchestration for the spectacular flying scenes, stage magic and fantastic choreography, it has everything you’d want for a magical family trip to the theatre.”

Anaya, for one, is looking forward to it.

“Rehearsals have been fun because since we’re not in every scene we basically got to watch the whole show every week. My granny and my cousins are coming and so are some of my teachers. I think they’ll love it because it’s really good.”

The Wizard of Oz is at Blackpool Grand Theatre 31st May-3rd June. Tickets here.

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    Antonia Charlesworth Stack is a journalist and editor from Blackpool. She was deputy editor of Big Issue North magazine and is editor of Blackpool Social Club. Antonia is also the founder of Reclaim Blackpool, a women's safety campaign that began life as an article she wrote for Blackpool Social Club. She's a contributing author to the Lancashire Stories anthology with her story about a Blackpool performer, The Call of The Sea. The book is available for free in libraries across the county.

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