Pele Productions and The Lowry had a huge hit with their last trip to Kansas four years ago, so you cannot blame them for revisiting The Wizard Of Oz again, this Christmas.
This time around though, there is the ultimate unique selling point; the canny casting of Lorna Luft (Judy Garland’s daughter and Liza Minnelli’s sister) as Ms Gulch and The Wicked Witch. Far more than just a sales gimmick, it totally pays off, as Luft chews the scenery and brings high camp to this evergreen classic, popular with families and gay audiences alike.
Based on the film version, this show has all of the familar tunes that we all know and love, including “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” as we join Dorothy and her friends, The Scarecrow, The Tin Man and The Cowardly Lion on their magical quest to Oz.
The Lowry’s production is a mixture of a musical and a pantomime, including the expected audience participation scenes, which fit perfectly, particularly during the slapstick moments.
Katie Schofield is utterly believable in her professional debut as Dorothy; the innocent placed in a strange world. Her vocals are strong and she and the lovely Wispa (Toto) make an adorable double-act. Jamie Greer is a delightful Cowardly Lion, playing the comedy for all it’s worth. Likewise Ian Casey’s Scarecrow and Joe Standerline’s Tin Man complete the trio, displaying genuine chemistry.
Local children play the Munchkins and almost steal the show, with their playful turns. Director Simon Rawlings keeps the action coming, meaning that even your little ones will be far from restless.
Second Home Productions’ excellent film sequences, and Ian Hopinson’s crisp sound design add suspense, where required, making many of the chldren on the night I attended jump with excitement. Particularly effective is the tornado scene, whereby film and theatre collide, juxtaposed seamlessly.
There is the odd flaw though. The sound seems over-amplified during many key scenes and the lack of live music also means that some of the cast are wrong footed if they choose to improvise any dialogue.
But, the spirited dancers and the commitment and energy of the whole cast more than make up for this. As for Luft, her appearance alone, means that this festive season, there’s no place quite like Salford!