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THE WIZARD OF OZ: The Palace Theatre, Manchester, 2024


The Palace Theatre, Manchester, 2024

‘a fabulous cast brings this timeless classic to life’

from I Love Manchester newsletter

read by Norman Warwick

For some Wicked is their ‘go-to’ musical.

For me, you cannot beat going down the yellow brick road for the first time, meet Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Men and the Scarecrow with their personal quests to get home, to get some courage, a heart and a brain.

The Wizard of Oz   (left)  when down-staged well can be dark, funny and heart-warming and there is no explanation needed as to why the Witch of the West is so wicked. She just is.

This new production by Nikolai Foster comes directly from the Curve in Leicester and a West End run and it returns to London this Summer. So, how does it stack up to the wonderful movie version, starring Judy Garland?

The story of farm girl Dorothy being whisked from a monochrome Kansas to Oz via a tornado remains the same.

And the characters she meets along the way and her experiences remain. The era in which the show is set has been tweaked which leads to some interesting choices. Glinda the good witch rocks up on a scooter and it is Barbie-esque.

And the whole look of the show feels like Vegas meets Broadway. And this does dazzle the senses at times and means that the show is not just one re-tread of everything you have seen before.

There are a few drawbacks though, as there is an overreliance on video projection in place of a set.

This means that much of what you see of the countryside and Oz feels quite flat and it does resemble a video game at times, that someone else is playing. 

If props were used, the shapes and colours would give the audience more of a visceral connection.

But the videos are slightly blurred and headache-inducing, so there are moments when you feel as if you inhaled the poppies, along with Dorothy and her pals.

If they only had a proper set, it would be as magical as the film. Luckily, the performers give this show their all and therefore you do feel as if you are somewhere over the rainbow during key moments.

Aviva Tulley (shown on cover photo) is sensational as Dorothy; her vocals have the power to soothe one minute and break your heart the next. She has an incredible stage presence and holds her own, and you cannot take your eyes off her, as she embodies who Dorothy is but with a feistiness and fighter mentality.

Jason Manford loves musical theatre, and it shows, he just loves being on stage belting out tunes and being funny and his Cowardly Lion allows him to do both of these, really well. Aston Merrygold comes alive as the Tin Man and Hickory when he has some choreography. I wish in a way, he was playing the scarecrow, as he has the moves like Jagger.

Benjamin Yates has superb comic timing as the scarecrow and resembles a puppet with no strings, his physicality is spot on.

Emily Bull brings the full-on Barbieness to Glinda and is having a ball. Abigail Matthews as Toto is so good, that you forget that the dog she controls is a puppet. The ensemble performers are great all-rounders and can dance and sing, but there are a few scenes when they are directed to simply sit and watch, and you know they have more fire in their bellies than this.

Allan Stewart is a perfect wizard, as the doddery face behind the huge curtain. And he brings old-school quality to the role from the minute he steps onto the stage. 

The Vivienne relishes in the roles of Ms Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West. She gets a round of applause at the end instead of boos, which highlights how much the audience appreciates her performance. 

She reminds me of the late great Paul O’Grady when he was in panto, she embodies show business and making the most of a role. I just wish she got to fly as high as her performance.

In terms of the songs, Off to See the Wizard sticks in the memory, as it highlights the power of a great company all working together and they deliver and then some. 

This new production is fast-paced and will please families and fans of the original.

I just wish that the set design relied less on video because in this case, when it is used it separates you from the action.

Thankfully the hard-working cast takes you down the Yellow Brick Road and to Oz and back again, where trouble melts like lemon drops.

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