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Review: The Wizard of Oz (UK Tour / New Wimbledon Theatre)

Review by Sophie Wilby


⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


After spending a summer at the London Palladium, Dorothy is following the yellow brick road across the UK and Ireland as The Wizard of Oz tours, returning to London for 5 nights at The New Wimbledon Theatre. 


Though I am certain that The Wizard of Oz is a story familiar to most, for everyone whose childhood sadly lacked repeated visits to the merry old land of Oz through the magic of VCR, The Wizard of Oz is best known for the iconic 1939 Judy Garland movie which is based on L Frank Braum’s 1900 novel. 



In The Wizard of Oz we follow the story of Dorothy Gale, a young girl who feels like an outsider on a rural Kansas farm (a sentiment beautifully conveyed in ‘Nobody Understands Me’). After a twister pulls her from Kansas, she becomes a serial kill…I mean, accidental murderer of witches as she traverses the fantastical land of Oz in a desperate attempt to find her way back home. 


This adaptation by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams lovingly brings to the stage the magic of the movie, creating an evening full of childhood wonder and nostalgia. Much of the story remains true to film, though there was a notable choice to hint towards a romantic attraction between Dorothy and the scarecrow that I didn’t feel was necessary. The classic songs we know and love like ‘Ding Dong The Witch is Dead’ sit alongside newer creations by Andrew Llyod Webber and TIm Rice. 



In this rendition, directed by Nikolai Foster, we leave a Great Depression era Kansas and land in a kitsch futuristic-cum-1950s era Oz. Perhaps best illustrated by Glinda (Emily Bull), dressed in a sparkly poodle skirt astride a hot pink vespa (which I now desperately want to own) rather than a broom, clutching a mobile phone instead of a wand.


The show begins with the help of a visual screen (designed by Douglas O’Connel) as we follow a plane flying over the Kansas landscape (not dissimilar to the opening of 90s children’s show ‘Come Outside’). The screen itself is a useful story setting tool, helping to root the story in the relevant location whilst also conveying an almost hallucinatory feeling, perhaps relating to the suggestion that Dorothy is simply stuck in a dream. I did feel, however, that it was a little overly relied on and at times unnecessary. Almost like being stuck in Willy Wonka’s tunnel with a rapid onslaught of ominous projections adorning the walls. 



The set more generally, however, was stunningly designed by Colin Richmond - if there is an opposite of subtly in design, then this production is it. From the duller, wooden set of Kansas, with the grey toned costumes (Rachel Canning) and moodier lighting (Ben Cracknell) design, the stage explodes into a burst of colour, reminiscent of the transition to technicolour in the film. This exciting use of colour is consistent throughout Dorothy’s time in Oz, from the bright, bold costumes to the bright and bold set. The highlight of which for me was the versatile design of moveable pieces of yellow brick road being manoeuvred by an ensemble cast in bright, yellow suits who somehow simultaneously became part of the action, responding to the events unfolding before them whilst also blending into the background. Not all of the bells-and-whistles of this set and costume design are successful however, with the coca-cola themed set of the Poppy Motel featuring an ensemble cast member standing with a lampshade on their head feeling confused and unnecessary. That doesn’t really detract, however, from what is a visually engaging production with a perhaps slightly over zealous use of pyrotechnics throughout. 


It is never easy to step into the ruby slippers of such an iconic role but Aviva Tulley as Dorothy is worthy of standing proudly alongside those who came before. Her rendition of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ (which let’s be honest, is the song we’re all waiting for) was nothing shy of mesmerising. 



Even though at times The Vivienne’s Wicked Witch did veer into a more overly caricaturised,  pantomime performance, that was easy to forgive by how impressive their ability to ride a bike in those high-heeled boots was. And let’s face it - we all love to hate an over-the-top villain. 


Considering it is the titular role, the Wizard of Oz himself has limited stage time. Portrayed by Gary Wilmot who is certainly no stranger to the role, having also played the Wizard in Wicked. Nevertheless, when he is on stage, he is impressive, delivering a particularly enjoyable performance during ‘Wonders of The World’. With similarly limited time on stage, Emily Bull’s Glinda was equally impressive. ‘Already Home’ is a beautiful addition to the Wizard of Oz by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, and it is one which is performed beautifully by Emily Bull. 



The motley crew of the Scarecrow (Benjamin Yates), Tin Man (Marley Fenton) and Cowardly Lion (Nic Greenshields) all serve to bring in a comedic element to the show. Of the three, it is perhaps the Lion who does this most and though the jokes are never really unexpected (of course there’s a ‘friend of Dorothy’ line), they landed well when delivered with solid comedic timing by Nic Greenshields. Each of the three actors had their own clear strength - Benjamin Yates stood out for his voice, whilst Marley Fenton stood out for his choreography (beautifully timed with Adam Fisher’s sound design) and Nic Greensheild stood out for his acting.  


The ensemble cast too, deserve a mention for performing Shay Barclay’s high energy choreography expertly. And of course, who could forget Toto? Abigail Matthew’s puppeteering skill was clear and strong - a testament of which being that it was easy to forget she was even on stage. The simplicity of the puppet itself was a nice contrast to the business of the visual screen and perhaps at times, slightly excessive costuming. She created tender moments between Toto and the cast which made me want to immediately hug my own dog (even if she wouldn't be very good at helping to save me from a wicked witch). 



The Wizard of Oz is a classic tale, and it is told in a visually exciting production. As you might expect, it does what it says on the tin(man) - for those who love the film it is a nostalgic, fun and easy way to spend an evening. It’s a loud, bright and high energy production which teeters on the verge of being overwhelming but manages to delight both adults and children alike. 


The Wizard of Oz continues its UK tour until August 11th


For tickets and information visit https://uktour.wizardofozmusical.com/tickets/ 

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