Review: The Wizard Of Oz at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Review: The Wizard Of Oz at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Invited| Everyone knows the story of The Wizard of Oz so I really do not need to tell you that it concerns a dreamer of a girl called Dorothy who yearns for excitement and escape from her humdrum life in Kansas, Illinois only to be whisked off in a tornado to the merry old land of Oz. There she meets a bevy of fantastic friends and spends the rest of the time yearning to be back home again. 

This new production from the Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber stable takes this much loved story based on the Judy Garland film and transports it to the stage. All the expected elements including the well known songs are in this production but this is a horse of a different colour, oh my!

Where to start. As expected, we start with a very despondent Dorothy (Aviva Tulley) lamenting her lot, living with her Aunt Em/Glinda (Emily Bull) and Uncle Henry (David Burrows) on the farm. She is mainly unhappy because local busybody Miss Gulch (The Vivienne) has taken issue with her dog Toto  (Abigail Matthews) because the latter gave her ankle a wee nip and the former is threatening to have the poor wee thing taken away and destroyed. There is an additional song penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice here to open the piece which, for me, works very well to introduce the other characters of the story who later become Glinda – The Good Witch of the North, The Scarecrow (Benjamin Yates), The Tin Man (Femi Akinfolarin) and The Cowardly Lion (Nic Greenshields.)

Before the momentous cyclone, Dorothy happens upon a grifting showman, Professor Marvel (Allan Stewart) who counsels the young run away to get herself home quickly. We are then transported to Oz and the land of the munchkins. 

The staging of this production relies very much on projections and video and special lighting effects which normally I would frown upon but these are very cleverly utilised in this show and work very well indeed bringing the story up to date but with some lovely tender touches to the original film. Watch out for tributes to the original Dorothy, Wicked Witch of the West, Margaret Hamilton and the composers of the music in the clever video projections. These made me smile. 

Aviva Tulley gives a very strong performance when singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow that fully deserved the whoops and cheers from the very exuberant crowd as the final notes faded out. She was every part the innocent but head strong child of the piece and certainly had the audience eating out of her hand from the moment she walked on.

The trio of the scarecrow, tin man, and the cowardly lion were also exactly what you were looking for in this story. Benjamin Yates, in particular, held a rather psychedelic first act together with a strong performance of movement, singing and a wonderful glint in his eye. The cowardly lion, performed by Les Misérables stalwart, Nic Greenshields was loving every moment of his life camping up his not inconsiderable frame and Femi Akinfolarin showed some very clever robotic moves along with strong vocals and character work. 

The orchestra, led by Iestyn Griffiths, was superb and these ten strong musicians including guitars, keyboards, brass and woodwind really brought the rock elements of this modernised score to life. 

This production is not subtle by any stretch of the imagination. It is an absolute assault on the senses from the word go. As you travel through Oz, you could be forgiven that you were seeing all the most vulgar elements of American life being paraded in front of your weary eyes and it is absolutely relentless but there is an affectionate charm to the piece which had this fan of the original movie leaving the theatre with a warm glow and a smile on my face. 

For those of a musical theatre bent, one could play a very fun game of spot the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical influence at the same time as watching The Wizard of Oz and Tin Man’s costume could easily walk onto the stage at Wembley Troubadour to join the cast of Starlight Express without anyone batting an eyelid. The costumes (Rachael Manning) do deserve a mention because they are absolutely wonderful and along with Ben Cracknell’s lighting offer something very special indeed in terms of visual magic. 

Devout fans of The 1939 MGM musical masterpiece The Wizard of Oz would be forgiven for absolutely detesting this version but for me, as a fellow fan, I can see the love that has been put into it and the deference paid to this perennial family festive favourite.

The Wizard of Oz plays at The Theatre Royal, Newcastle until  Sunday 21st April and will have children young and old thoroughly enchanted if a little gobsmacked

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