The Wizard of Oz and 64 years of performances with SALOS

SALOS, Swindon’s Premier Musical Theatre Company has been producing work since 1952 and have been performing at the Wyvern Theatre since 1971. Their next production: The Wizard of Oz is coming to the Wyvern Theatre  from Wed 19 to Sat 22 October. For our latest Inside Swindon Theatres Blog we spoke to Russel Langdown, director of The Wizard Of Oz about the work SALOS do, the enduring appeal of the show and his favourite character!

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Thank you very much your time Russel, For anyone unfamiliar with Salos, could you tell us who Salos are and what the work you do.

SALOS, Swindon’s Premier Musical Theatre Company, is the most establised Musical Theatre group in Swindon and we have been providing local audiences with high quality productions since 1952.  SALOS’ history follows that of Swindon’s theatres and we have performed at the The Empire Theatre until it closed as a theatre in 1959, then The Playhouse Theatre (Mechanic’s Institure) in the 1960s, followed by a move to The Wyvern Theatre in 1971 where Her Majesty The Queen watched SALOS rehearse ‘The Gipsy Princess’ when she offically opened the theatre.  SALOS has performed at the Wyvern Theatre ever since!

 SALOS presents an annual show and the appeal for Swindon audiences seems to be our ability to simultaneously surprise and delight, from Rodgers & Hammerstein, to Lloyd-Webber, from Lerner & Loewe to Sondheim, SALOS’ eclectic mix of musicals ensures continued success and an enviable reputation within Swindon and the wider region.

  Wizard of Oz - Poster

What is the enduring appeal of the Wizard of Oz?

My personal view is that the musical has stood the test of time because it takes its origins from a good story, Baum’s 1900 novel ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ – after all, at the heart of good theatre is good story-telling! The technicolor film in 1938 did just that and was notable for its use of fantasy, music, and unusual characters.  However it’s one thing to watch ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ as a child, but quite another to see it as a grown-up; the fact that it remains a superior entertainment for children is just one of Oz’s many contradictions. Others include the score, which contains some truly atrocious, yet entertaining, rhyming (“If I only had the prowess/I’d be a lion, not a mowess.”), but also features ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ – the dictionary definition of sublime. Then there’s the story itself – an allegory for economic recovery but with a message “the things you need are already around you” that’s applicable to all.

Salos 1

Photo Credit: Russel Langdown

What is your directorial approach to The Wizard of Oz?

When directing something as well known as ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ you have to be aware that audiences have an expectation of the show; the Munchkins, the Yellow Brick Road, The Twister, the dog, the colour, ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ and the characters led by the legendary Judy Garland’s Dorothy.  However, all creative teams and actors want to put their own interpretation on a production, albeit in the knowledge that this will inevitably lead to comparisons.  Whilst we have done it ‘our way,’ we have been mindful that we are potentially creating ‘live’ memories of something that so many people already know and love.  Avid fans will notice the inclusion of ‘Jitterbug’, which was written for the film, but was cut because it was too long – it was probably the right choice at the time because ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ was nearly cut in the film instead!  SALOS are always keen to produce a show of the highest possible standards and we try not to compromise where we think a show needs a special effect for example, or on the quality of the professional costumes or set.    Each show necessitates a slightly different approach, but when a group has been producing shows for over 65 years, I think that it is also important to try to include aspects within in a production that are new and fresh for the performers as well as the audience who are watching.  You can’t ‘mess around’ with shows too much, as in most cases they have been successful on the professional stage for a reason, but you can try out ideas whenever possible.  We have to think carefully about how we can achieve the magic and balance that against the costs – SALOS productions normally cost in excess of £50,000 but have cost over £100,000 in the past!

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Photo Credit: Russel Langdown

What is your favourite song from the Wizard of Oz and why?

I have to confess that somehow I had managed to reach my thirties without ever having watched ‘The Wizard of Oz’ – amazing but true!  I knew the story and some songs, but had never watched the film.  As I’ve got to know the show, I think that I most enjoy the versions of “If I Only Had a…[Brain & Heart]” where the Scarecrow and the Tinman are seen for the first time.  The tune is really catchy and it gives a great opportunity for the characters to develop a relationship with each other, as well as establish themselves with  the audience.

How do people get involved with Salos?

SALOS is a friendly society with a memership who make up the performers that you see in our productions.  We hold informal auditions at various points in the year, but people are always welcome to contact us to visit a rehearsal to see for themselves what it is like.  Our membership spans the age range of 16 years to 70+ years.  For some of our younger members it is an opportunity to develop their performing experience before moving on to professional vocational training or performing – a number of our members over the years have gone on to perform professionally in the West End – for others it is a hobby that they have enjoyed with SALOS for over 50 years!   Quite often we audition and cast children in our shows, such as for ‘Oliver’ ‘Annie’ or ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and a number of these young people come back to join SALOS when they are old enough to audition at 16 years.  We also have members who want to suppport our productions, such as working backstage during our shows, playing piano for our rehearsals, or even taking care of cast & crew refreshments!  All these roles are so important to SALOS, because if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to put on our shows to the standard that we are known for.  Volunteers are always welcome!

Salos 5

Photo Credit: Russel Langdown

I personally did my first show for SALOS in 1988 as a child in ‘Hello Dolly’ when I was 7 years old.  I was lucky enough to be in the children’s cast for a number of years and then worked backstage on the Props Team for a couple of years.  When I was 16, I auditioned to become a member of SALOS and performed in the shows.  Having expressed an interested in learning from SALOS‘ incredibly talented Director, Pat Donovan, who directed for SALOS from 1962-2005, I was invited to direct the 2007 production of ‘Fiddler On The Roof’ and I have been fortunate to direct the main shows ever since.  ‘The Wizard of Oz’ will be my 10th show as Director and 28th year with the society!

More information about joining SALOS can be found on our website:  www.salos.org

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The Wizard of Oz will be at The Wyvern Theatre on from Wed 19 to Sat 22 October

For more information and to buy tickets please visit: http://bit.ly/WizardofOz16

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