After what feels like a trying and troublesome personal journey up some off-yellow brick railroads from Northampton to Leicester tonight and arriving in Leicester’s Cultural Quarter a tad fatigued, the bar is set high for Curves’ The Wizard of Oz to entertain, enthral and relax me. It’s an ageless classic revived for the stage once more by the acclaimed Curve Theatre and already I have heard great things from the previews. I hope they come to fruition. Curve have a brilliant reputation for staging innovative versions of musicals like their recent A Chorus Line and West Side Story I really hope their version of Dorothy’s tale floats my musical theatre boat. In conclusion: “Well blow me down, with all its magic still very much intact, it’s absolutely safe to say after reviewing my very first show in Leicester that there’s now no place like Curve for me!”
As a story we all know and love, Curve theatre’s own reworking of the whimsical The Wizard of Oz musical adaptation tells the tale with all the wonder you could hope for and so much more.
Travelling back to the early 20th century, a young rebellious Dorothy (Georgina Onuorah) soon finds herself swept away from Kansas in a destructive cyclone. Waking up with Toto, her loyal canine companion, by her side, Dorothy finds herself bewildered and completely lost in the unfamiliar fantasy land of Oz the other side of the rainbow. It’s not long before she finds herself unexpectedly torn between witches and wizards, munchkins and scary flying monkeys, and a whole lot more. Life in Oz certainly ain’t straight forward and it appears she has accidently killed a bad witch! Oh Golly! Oh my!
Directed by Curve’s own Nikolai Foster, what makes this adaptation’s revival so beguilingly magnificent is how it expands upon the beloved characters beyond any retelling before now, deepening as it does, the already lovable, and wicked, personalities throughout the entire performance. If that wasn’t enough, the mere theatrical magic behind the stage design is as marvellous as it is spellbinding. It’s hard to describe the whole complex theatrical concept and show it justice but I’d say it’s a visual and aural splicing between practical sets and props, outstanding costumery and phenomenal projections and live performance and music! There’s always something on stage capturing my eyes and ears and it’s totally engaging. There are very often times when I feel like bursting into spontaneous applause! Musical theatre this good doesn’t come along that often.
Following each step of the way is the sensational and heart-filling music from none other than Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice and Jeremy Sams, pairing these great musical minds with the timeless tunes of the original movie from 1939. Every voice in this performance is delivered with perfection and it’s rare to see and hear an ensemble that can rival the main cast. From the second I hear ‘Over The Rainbow’, I know Georgina Onuorah perfectly fits the role of Dorothy as well as those enchanted ruby slippers. But it’s also moments when the stage is full of an array of voices that has me tapping my heels along with the show. It’s hard to resist the merry melody of ‘Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead’ and it’s thanks to the amazing cast and its ensemble that a show can fill the theatre with such energy. The live Curve band conducted by George Dyer are totally magnificent.
I’d say there’s no easy role in a classic like this, especially for the troublesome trio, namely Scarecrow (Jonny Fines), Tin Man (Paul French), and Cowardly Lion (Giovanni Spano). Everyone has a favourite and while no one falls short, Jonny Fines steals the show with his awfully corny witticisms. The threesome all have their moments in sending the audience into hysterics, but none quite have the same delivery as the brainless straw man. Yet something they all add to their characters, especially in the Tin Man’s case, is heart and some spectacular singing voices.
Standing in as the malicious Ms Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West, Ellie Mitchell takes on the role with utter conviction. A mountainous part to fill as it is, Mitchell embodies the evil and dreadful wickedness with her green face and her malevolent grin. She commands the stage as she stalks, swoops and motorbikes across the stage with her monkey mutant minions and Winkies. Opposing her is the fabulously pink Glinda (Christina Bianco) who my only gripe is that there just isn’t enough of her in the show! Her appearances may be short but they are extremely sweet as she dashes across the stage on her motor scooter to aid Dorothy, Toto and her friends in constant danger. Bianco also has a terrific singing voice especially in the haunting song ‘Already Home’.
There’s never a more perfect time to take a trip down the yellow brick road yourself just before and shortly after Christmas. The Wizard Of Oz isn’t leaving Leicester’s Curve theatre until Jan 8 but the sooner you see it the better! Book your tickets while you still can. You may find yourself going multiple times it is so darned good! The winged monkeys are not for hire to get there!