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This week the direct-from-London production of the Wizard of Oz is in Canterbury, with a week of performances at The Marlowe Theatre as part of its UK and Ireland tour. Following a summer at the Palladium, the show has been bringing the story of Dorothy and the citizens of Oz to regional venues across the country, with some old Hollywood magic thrown in. A show that has been on my theatre bucket list for years, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review the timeless production last night, which has been directed by Nikolai Foster.
A fast-paced musical version of the MGM classic
With additional songs by Andrew Lloyd Weather and Tim Rice, the musical stays true to the film, bringing to life the characters and settings that continue to capture imaginations worldwide. With some modernisation in terms of the costumes and props, it manages to feel both nostalgic and fresh, with Glinda (Emily Bull) rocking some dazzling, Barbie-esque outfits and the Wicked Witch of the West (The Vivienne) in some incredible, tailored ensembles. Costume designer Rachael Canning deserves high praise for providing the renowned characters with new visual energy.
The production runs for 2 hours 20 minutes including an interval, which will really appeal to families. As an avid theatre fan, I would’ve liked to have seen a little more breathing room between the scenes, but the creative team have certainly created a slick and tightly-executed show.
Vocals, orchestrations and soundtrack
Musically, I adored the production. The orchestrations and vocal performances are note perfect, with harmonious sound balancing. From the moment that the overture started, I was on the edge of my seat, excited to see how the company would take such a classic musical and regenerate it for a modern day audience.
‘Follow The Yellow Brick Road’ and ‘The Merry Old Land Of Oz’ are reprised many times throughout and on every occasion that the company performed the tracks, I had goosebumps. This is one example of how vocals drive the magic of the production. Aside from ‘Over The Rainbow’, which was performed wonderfully by Dorothy (Aviva Tulley), the soundtrack is mostly full of uplifting and joyous musical numbers. The cast manage to make the cheery songs still feel relevant, over 80 years since the film was released.
Varied lighting design
The lighting design in this extremely colourful production is vibrant, encapsulating the many hues of Oz. Whilst adding high production value to the show and helping to visually frame the themed lands, in places the strobe effects are overpowering and a little difficult to take in. Even though there is no doubt that the lighting contributes to making The Wizard of Oz a visual spectacle, a softer approach would keep audience attention focused on the action over the flashing lights.
Video projections and set design
Artistically, I struggled to get behind Douglas O’Connell and Alex Clarke’s animated video projections. It is a bold creative decision to limit the inclusion of a physical set and for such a classic show, it holds the work back from being a home-run of a revival. The video sequences also take away some of the excitement of the transitions between Kansas and Oz, which are an opportunity for some imaginative set changes.
Whilst on the whole I wasn’t a fan of the artificial looking animations, it did work well in the Oz and castle scenes. Clearly New York had been a source of inspiration for the former, with subtle nuances to Broadway and Times Square.
Exceptional cast performances
Led with grace by Aviva Tulley, the entire cast are fantastic in their roles as the residents of Kansas and Oz. In a company with so much talent it is difficult to choose standout performers, but the Scarecrow (Benjamin Yates), the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda were responsible for some of my favourite moments. Yates’ almost western take on the character is full of spirit and personality, bringing country influences to ‘If I Only Had A Brain’. I also particularly enjoyed the feud between Bull and The Vivienne, which helped drive the underlying good vs evil theme. Both performers provided commendable vocal strength throughout, adding power to this fantasy story.
The Wizard of Oz is a musical masterpiece, that with less reliance on projections and more emphasis on physical staging, would be a dream retelling of the classic. Regardless of my thoughts on the video design, the cast are sensational, bringing the memorable songs to life with exuberant personalities and infectious energy. I commend the company on fantastic musical performances. The Wizard of Oz runs in Canterbury until Saturday, with the last few tickets available via the theatre’s website.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*My ticket for The Wizard of Oz was gifted in exchange for an unbiased review.