Saturday, July 20

The Wizard of Oz – Palace Theatre

Nikolai Foster has taken many a musical theatre staple and put his own spin on them, with this show being another triumph to come out of the tried and tested method of starting at the Leicester Curve before becoming a big hit. Sending this spectacle out on a national tour is a no-brainer, bound to bedazzle theatre goers all over the country with its imaginative take on the heart-warming classic.

Based on the book by L. Frank Baum, the tale has had many iterations, proving its generational appeal. But at the heart of its story, there’s a young girl on a heroic journey to find a place to belong.

We are taken on this adventure by Dorothy (Aviva Tulley). The audience is in very capable hands here, Tulley’s voice soars as she delivers Over the Rainbow, and her performance encapsulates all the affectionate and headstrong tendencies of the iconic role.

Leaving her worried Aunt Em behind, we happen upon Glinda (both portrayed by Emily Bull), a magical Barbie riding a Vespa. Bull is captivating as the good witch, with enough poise and pink to fill the stage, along with a gorgeous soprano voice.

The land of Oz is a colourful wonderland, a massive contrast to the grey undertone of Kansas. The use of a projection screen, in lue of backdrops, is becoming ever more popular, and in this case, it is a welcome addition. The set twists and turns as the videos pan along, giving the audience a first-hand experience of travelling alongside Dorothy and her companions. Screens can sometimes be an attempt at a “fix-all” in transporting the action, but Douglas O’Connell’s designs are a delight to see here.

Along the neon yellow brick road, Dorothy picks up a few stragglers to accompany her. Firstly, comes the forgetful Scarecrow, towering over a giant cornfield (I enjoyed the corn cans being presented as plants here, silly yet fun). Benjamin Yates is a true triple threat with comedy chops to boot. He had the audience grinning with every joke or acrobatic leap. I would happily watch his If I Only Had a Brain over and over.

Next, we meet the Tin Man, a rapping, riffing body-popper. It’s no surprise that Aston Merrygold, (of JLS fame) is effortless in his performance. His sweet tone and slick moves lend well to this portrayal, but he also impresses with his believability as the hardened man learning to soften up.

Jason Manford returns to his hometown with an entertaining turn as the Cowardly Lion. Manford has proved his theatrical prowess in previous musicals, (I last saw him in this same theatre almost ten years ago in a terrific production of The Producers), and this part shows him off in all the right ways. The lion is tender and terrific, fusing together Manford’s natural comic abilities and his pleasing vocals, making him a crowd favourite of the night.

Ru Paul’s Drag Race winner The Vivienne is breathtaking, strutting in stilettos with an evil glare. But it’s not just the look, her raspy cackle and majestic air make her a fantastic Wicked Witch.

The ensemble are constantly adorning the stage and hit every musical nuance in Shay Barclay’s exciting choreography. I also have to mention the adorable Toto, who distracted me many times with his lifelike motions, thanks to puppeteer Abigail Matthews.

This version hits just the right amount of nostalgic points, whilst also veering off in fantastical new directions. With generous nods to the original film, (keep an eye out on the Emerald City billboards), this is a deserving reimagining that stands apart from its predecessors.

Playing until 5th May, https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-wizard-of-oz/palace-theatre-manchester/

Reviewer: Coral Mourant

Reviewed: 25th April 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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