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  • David Robinson

The Wizard of Oz

Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 15th July

**** Four Stars “pure gold at the end of the rainbow.”

The Leicester Curve’s Artistic Director Nikolai Foster has done it again, this time he links arms with a wonderful production team to guide us down the yellow brick road to the weird and wonderful world of Oz. Colin Richmond’s all out design is a visual treat ably assisted by some eye-catching animation by Douglas O’Connell and some hugely commendable costume design courtesy of Rachael Canning. Nothing is ever quite what it seems in the wonderful world of Oz, and Foster’s direction capitalises on it with vigour, freshness, and a touch of the zany…lots to admire and applaud. We have a moving Route 66 style yellow brick road, dashing motorbikes and huge cans of corn to contend with, your attention is perpetually being pulled from one side of the huge Hippodrome stage to the other. The company for the long road trip is some wonderfully entertaining companions, led by the homesick Dorothy a beautifully crafted performance by Aviva Tulley who is oozing with hope and optimism. The other travellers, The Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion are a delightful trio carrying most of the humour and lightness, played deftly with the right dash of vulnerability by Benjamin Yates, Aston Merrygold, and Nic Greenshields, and not forgetting the faithful Toto touchingly brought to life by Abigail Matthews.

The respective witches dash on in contrasting costumes, the pink one belonging to Glinda, Emily Bull in brilliant form vocally as well as having bags of fun with the character. The more sinister costume belongs to the Wicked Witch of the West, played by the fabulous Craig Revel Horwood, he grabbed the broomstick for all its worth and gave us a wonderfully powerful, pantomime villain full of greed and jealously and yet with a nice extra slice of humour. The gentle nods to “Strictly” are an amusing add on. “Red Shoe Blues” from the new Lloyd Webber and Rice version is a superb opener to the second half. All the other familiar songs from the 1939 classic film are on display, as are some nice little nods to the Judy Garland movie. The story has had many a transition and adaptations since the book was first published in 1900, this is another commendable staging post, and the obsession will continue, Wicked: Part One the movie is due for release later this year.

The plaudits are widespread and deserved, the pace is a little frantic at times, we are at the gates of Oz before you know it, and the demise of the Wicked Witch is a wee bit rushed, although it is true to say our attention is never lost for a moment. The reliance on video and the screen was a bit too heavy for my liking at times.

All in all, though, I was blown away by it, a visual treat for all the family, all roads lead to the Hippodrome. And beyond as the tour continues.

David Robinson

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