There’s almost a formula for what makes a great Christmas musical. It needs to be carefully considered, it should have a lot of heart, and it should take risks. As a bonus, it should make you feel at home.
In that regard, Nikolai Foster could be considered the great Wizard of Oz. Curve’s reimagining of this timeless classic couldn’t be more timely.
It’s a storm of a show that pulls audiences right into the land of Oz - but merry it is not always. Immersive video projections designed by Douglas O'Connell are impressive and to be viewed with wonder. Whilst Colin Richmond’s set swallows audiences whole and works magic with perspective and illusion - there's a lovely number where Professor Marvel shows us the "Wonders Of The World" (a charming Mark Peachey) on his side-show bicycle.
Together, with Ben Cracknell's city-slicker style lighting, they transform Curve’s mega stage into a giant television screen that gives a gracious nod to the golden age of Hollywood, before tearing that rule book apart and going brash, loud and proud.
We’re swept up and spat out as we join Dorothy (Georgina Onuorah) and her dog, Toto (a scene-stealing Ben Thompson), to follow the yellow brick road, ingeniously reimagined as a Route 66 style trail.
Like all good roadtrips, there are pit-stops and the ones on the way to the Emerald City are at gloriously garish landmarks.
Photo by Marc Brenner
Munchkin Land is a kitsch town united in devotion to a Barbie-esque Glinda (Christina Bianco) who drives a hot pink Vespa with grace, whilst the leopard print clad Wicked Witch (Ellie Mitchell) oversees Oz in the skyrise building of her tycoon enterprise.
Golden boy, Scarecrow (Jonny Fines) is found in a Southern style sun-soaked field, an ironically emo Tin Man (Paul French) in a run-down gas station and the jock-like Lion (Giovanni Spano) illuminated by Vegas neon bar lights.
Under the glossy shine lies a darker residue as the land of Oz slowly becomes a dystopian fever dream – quite the coy statement if you consider the American Dream we’re often flogged.
Spoiler: the individual with the most power hides behind a facade and jets off in a spaceship at the end.
The brilliant ensemble is wickedly versatile. Shay Barclay’s firecracker choreography puts them through their paces as they transform from lemon drop yellow roadside by-watchers eating popcorn to poppy red lampshades administrating drugs through vending machine Coca-Cola. At their flashiest, they're outrageous Ozians dressed to the nines in costume designer, Rachael Canning’s answer to Moschino. Heck – even Toto (puppeteered to perfection) is tasseled.
Photo by Marc Brenner
Amidst all of the weird and wonderful, the famed songs still find a place to sit comfortably. A star is born in Onuorah’s turn as Dorothy - more mature, strong and likeable. Her “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” is as soft as butter, but she's unwavering in the face of danger. Billboards in Oz nod to Garland’s origination and hold the iconic figure as a symbol of what we should be thankful for in a commercial and greed driven landscape.
Bianco is a sparkling presence and makes “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead” a parade for the ears, whilst her “Already Home” (one of the additions for the stage production from Andrew Lloyd Webber) has a warm operatic touch.
At this performance, Ellie Mitchell played the Wicked Witch with a knowing wink. She showcased vocal chops in the devilish “Red Shoes Blues” before stylishly sipping a Martini.
However, George Dyer’s musical direction really plays with the imagination in the “If I Only Had A…” numbers. French’s take as Tin Man is a stroke of genius – all teen angst and dead pan, if you’ll pardon the pun. These moments of characterisation for our comedic charmer Scarecrow, sad boy™ Tin Man and misunderstood jock Lion are joyous and unfiltered fun.
The book serves some zinger lines. It’ll make you go ha ha ha, ho ho ho!
Foster has kept the age-old message of The Wizard of Oz close to his chest in directing the piece. This is a bold retelling that has style and stamina, as well as soul. What’s more, it isn’t preachy or nauseatingly sweet. It’s fun, camp and unapologetically over the top. It really is the wonderful Wizard of Oz!
The Wizard of Oz plays at Curve this Christmas