Review by Daz Gale (No relation to Dorothy)
Curve Leicester have regularly blown audiences away for some time now. With their unrivalled production value, their hit rate in the last twelve months has been incredible with productions of A Chorus Line and Billy Elliot among their impressive lineup. For their latest production, they are revisiting one of the most iconic stories ever. More commonly known for the movie than the stage version, I was keen to finally get to see this in person so I didn’t hesitate to follow the yellow brick road (Well, hop on a National Express) to Leicester to see The Wizard Of Oz. But was it as wonderful as I could ever have hoped?
Based on the classic book by L. Frank Baum, The Wizard Of Oz has transcended generations thanks to its truly legendary 1939 film starring Judy Garland. While the story spawned several theatrical adaptations including The Wiz and a little show called Wicked, this stage adaptation wasn’t seen until 2011. Adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber, it hasn’t been seen in the UK since its Palladium run concluded in 2012. Telling the story of Dorothy Gale who discovers she’s not in Kansas anymore after a twister blows her to the land of Oz where she immediately goes on a killing spree. The Wizard Of Oz aims to tell Dorothys side of the story, even if that does mean painting Elpha… I mean the Wicked Witch of the West as the Villain of the story.
The thing to immediately talk about with this production of The Wizard Of Oz is the production value itself. Curve Leicester never do things by halves but this is grand even for them. The wow factor begins before the show has even started with an impressively glorious proscenium adorning the stage. This impressive nature continues throughout the show and regularly had my jaw on the floor.
The high-tech production boasts truly stunning set design by Colin Richmond and beautiful lighting by Ben Cracknell. The jewel in the crown belongs to the remarkable video projections. Designed by Douglas O'Connell, these add a sense of grandeur to the already vast stage and admirably paint the scene with detailed videos panning the various settings in both Kansas and Oz. This leads to a projected twister sequence which was pure theatre magic at its finest. I’m not exaggerating when I say The Wizard Of Oz features the best projections I have ever seen in the theatre. This impressive nature continues with a stunning backdrop for the gentrified Emerald City full of clever and hilarious Easter Eggs in the background (Look out for clever references to The Wiz, Wicked, Return to Oz, Judy Garland and even a certain Elton John album).
The direction by the always reliable Nikolai Foster manages to both stay true to the original nature of the story, bringing to life the iconic moments children have grown up with for 83 years now. What this production does fantastically well though is not be afraid to bring new elements to the table, updating the story and the show in a way that still feels true to the original nature but is still satisfyingly original in tone.
The high production value is matched with its undeniably impressive cast. Georgina Onuorah effortlessly steps in to Judy Garlands Ruby slippers to portray Dorothy. An instantly recognisable role and one so widely associated with such a legendary star, Georgina wastes no time in making the role her own in a confident and charismatic portrayal. Leading the action with a lot of heart and revealing some varying complexities to the character, Georgina delivers a masterclass performance, showcasing a stunning singing voice to boot.
After impressing with her turn in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice earlier this year, it really is good to see Christina Bianco in such a big production like this. She delights as Glinda, making the most of her fleeting appearances throughout the show with some truly memorable performances. Showing there is no end to her talents, she wows with her amazing singing and charms as the one Witch Dorothy decides not to viciously murder. In the absence of Charlotte Jaconelli, Ellie Mitchell jumps on to the broomstick to play The Wicked Witch Of The West. Another testament to how vital understudies and swings are to the continuation of the show, she defies expectations in a truly impressive turn.
Jonny Fines is an undoubted highlight as the Scarecrow. A true triple threat, he wows with his singing, acting and dancing abilities in a performance that clearly takes a lot of brains to pull off so cleverly. Paul French is full of heart as the Tin Man, though his brash initial performance can be slightly jarring to witness, it melts away gradually as the performance continues. The trio is completed with a star turn by Giovanni Spano who gives a courageous performance as the Lion in a role that plays to his strengths as a performer. The scenes where the three are together on stage are among the best of the show with a camaraderie that follows beyond the stage.
Other standouts among the cast include Mark Peachey who is simply wonderful as both Professor Marvel and The Wizard of Oz, and Ben Thompson who plays Dorothy’s faithful dog Toto. A sensational ensemble cover every inch of that yellow brick stage with talent, with stunning choreography from Shay Barclay particularly exciting on the larger numbers.
The Wizard Of Oz features music from the original movie alongside new compositions from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Of course, the incomparable ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ is present and performed flawlessly by Georgina while other instantly recognisable songs including ‘Ding! Dong! The Witch Is Dead’ and ‘Follow The Yellow Brick Road’ are pleasingly present, Some of the new numbers easily match up to this high calibre with one particularly highlight the 11 o clock number between Glinda and Dorothy ‘Already Home’ – drawing comparisons to a similarly titled song from The Wiz, musically and vocally it is a true standout of the show. Orchestrations from David Cullen adapted by George Dyer ensure these mix of classic and newer numbers sound perfect, helped by crystal clear sound design from Adam Fisher.
Taking on such a timeless and adored story such as The Wizard Of Oz is an unenviable task. Keeping purists happy whole daring to bring new and sometimes risky elements to the story could have gone horribly wrong. However, fortune favours the brave and this production ticks all the boxes to be an absolute masterpiece. Visually gorgeous, consistently glorious to watch and starring a sickeningly talented group of performers, The Wizard Of Oz is extremely well thought out and meticulous in its execution.
Full of brains, heart and courage, this production of The Wizard Of Oz really is something special. They may have had to go over the rainbow to find it but it was clearly worth it as Curve Leicester have struck gold once again. As close to perfection as it can possibly get, The Wizard of Oz is absolutely wonderful. I’d encourage everybody to go off to see it.
The Wizard Of Oz plays at Curve Leicester until 8th January 2023. Tickets from www.curveonline.co.uk
Photos by Marc Brenner