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The Wizard of Oz at Curve Leicester – review

A new revival of the recent musical adaptation lands in Leicester

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
The cast of The Wizard of Oz
© Marc Brenner

"Oh my, oh my OH MY! Toto, I've a feelin' we're not in Kansas anymore!" cries young Dorothy Gale to her little dog companion as she is roughly transported from her dustbowl farmstead home by a violent cyclone – and finds herself in a world that is stranger than strange. The immortal words have echoed through the decades, from the beloved original novel by L Frank Baum, first published in 1900, to the possibly hundreds of staged versions ever since and the unforgettable 1939 MGM film starring Judy Garland.

What makes this Made at Curve re-worked The Wizard of Oz musical, based on Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice and Jeremy Sams' adaptation, any different and worth seeing? Positively in its favour are new character background stories for us to freshly comprehend the well-known children's story in a novel. Furthermore, Curve's innovative The Wizard of Oz musical is a blending of reality and rather thrilling, visually trippy fantasy with incredible animated projections. The startling and vibrant design concept shows vivid contrasts between the American 1930s Great Depression in dustbowl Kansas and a neon lit technicoloured 1950s Americana-influenced Munchkinland and the Emerald City capital of Oz. For those who want to look deeper, there are many visual allegories relating to over-commercialism and power-greedy individuals like the Wicked Witch of the West.

After four hard years of planning, Curve's artistic director Nikolai Foster and his creative team and cast have crafted something quite beyond extra-ordinary with their revitalised The Wizard of Oz musical. As a family show for Christmas, this is a smart, aural and visual joy with wonderful heart and adventurous depictions. The fabulous mix of live action, music and new Lloyd Webber/Rice/Sams songs and projections is, in short, Toto-tastic!

Do cans of sweet corn grow on stalks? They do in Curve's Oz! Not only that – witches fly around on motor bikes and the yellow brick road (merrily skipped down by our band of heroes) is cleverly perceived as Route 66 – with all its optimistic travelling dreams, joys and perils.

Jonny Fines, Ben Thompson, Georgina Onuorah, Giovanni Spano and Paul French in The Wizard of Oz
© Marc Brenner

The hard-working Wizard of Oz ensemble are universally excellent. Ben Thompson's cute Toto puppet almost steals the show with his realistic antics. Rising star Georgina Onuorah's Dorothy is perfectly sublime in her determined personality, optimism, and beautiful singing voice. Paul French (Tin Man), Jonny Fines (Scarecrow), and Giovanni Spano (Cowardly Lion) are all simultaneously funny and very touching in their vulnerabilities – all Friends of Dorothy must listen out for the Cowardly Lion's declaration of pride.

Jacqui Dubois (Aunt Em) and Geoffrey Aymer (Uncle Henry) ground the piece with their earnest humanity, while Christina Bianco is a vocally terrific pink fairy perfection on a souped-up scooter. Mark Peachey excels as the wacky sausage-cooking Professor Marvel and all-terrifying all-powerful futuristic Wizard of Oz.

The evil Wicked Witch of The West and Ms Gulch are played this press night by cover Ellie Mitchell, who puts in a strong characterful performance. Here, the Wicked Witch is personified as a heartless green-faced oil baroness, hell-bent on complete world-domination with her armies of subservient marching Winkies and flying monkey type mutants.

All the old Oz songs and one liners (timelessly penned by Harold Arlen and EY Harburg) like "Yellow Brick Road", "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" and, "Over The Rainbow" remain, plus some new Lloyd Webber, Rice and Sams corkers like "Red Shoes Blues", "Wonders of The World" and "Bring Me That Broomstick".

In a show of many incredible parts, plaudits must go to Colin Richmond (set designer), Ben Cracknell (lighting design), Rachel Canning (costume and puppet designer), Shay Barclay (choreographer) and Adam Fisher (sound) for their sterling work, while Douglas O'Connell's amazing projection designs have turned this Wizard of Oz into something other-worldly. Musical director George Dyer and his ten-piece band kick up a musical theatre storm with Dyer's new musical arrangements and orchestrations.

So, put in your ruby red slippers, follow the yellow brick road straight to Leicester Curve, and you, like Dorothy Gale, will be blown away by Curve's Christmas musical extravaganza. It's sheer theatrical wizardry and far too good to miss.