Saturday, 6 December 2008

The Wizard of Oz - Lowry Theatre, Salford

The Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum
Music and lyrics: Harold Arlen & EY Harburg
Director – Simon Rawlings
Musical director – Jim Wells
Reviewer: Philipa Jenkins

With such a well-loved musical as The Wizard of Oz comes big expectations, and this was heightened with the casting of Judy Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft as the Wicked Witch.

The show gets off to a somewhat stilted beginning in the monochrome setting of Kansas, with a couple of technical difficulties and tentative performances from the cast. It’s at this point that Dorothy’s dog Toto; possibly the most beautiful dog ever seen on a stage in Salford; who gains copious amounts of fond laughter and cooing from the audience every time he scurries across the stage, threatens to steal the show. This is thankfully remedied by the entrance of Miss Gulch (Lorna Luft) who put quite simply couldn’t enjoy delivering the legendary line ‘I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!’ any more. Clearly she is relishing the ‘baddie’ opportunity and quite rightly too! The cherished ruby-heeled role of Dorothy (Katie Schofield) was cast via the Lowry’s ‘Dorothy Idol – Search for A Star’ auditions and sees the 16 year-old make her professional debut. It’s a confident performance that in such a successful and nurturing show will only continue to mature and improve.

The production boasts a host of special effects and although a musical as famous as The Wizard Of Oz often poses a problem as to whether to stay faithful to all production values or to attempt a more varied interpretation, a pleasant balance is obtained. The tornado scene is cleverly achieved with the use of a screen showing a series of images reminiscent of the original film, and Dorothy visible in the house behind, culminating in a shot of Miss Gulch transforming into the Wicked Witch and beckoning the audience to step into the world behind the screen. Fantastic.

The bubblegum setting of Oz is as expected if not a little too obvious. The munchkins, played by children, are a delight for most; perhaps as the audience is predominantly families; however the lip-syncing that they undertake is not something I enjoyed. The three boys of the Lollipop Guild were fantastic however, as were the sarcastic talking trees who I was delighted to note spoke in churlish New York accents and not the southern Kansas drawl that the rest of the cast undertook.
The highlight for me was the yellow brick road sequence with outstanding performances from the Cowardly Lion (Jamie Greer) , Scarecrow (Ian Casey)and Tin Man(Joe Standerline ) who delivered the characters exactly as the production called for. Costumes were perfect, save a minor green-and-gold-combo debacle in the wizard’s 80s inspired palace teamed with a remarkably odd mimed tap dance… and by the time the wonderful ‘Lions & Tigers & Bears’ began the audience were jovially responding with the usual pantomime jeers, hisses and phrases.

Aside from the glaring fact that a young woman really shouldn’t be wandering around a dark forest with 3 gentlemen she’s only just met, the show is everything it should be, and everything the audience wanted. A lovely alternative to the traditional family panto, and with such highlights as Lorna Luft starring and talking New Yorker trees, quite frankly a production not to be missed.

Photos: Ben Blackall
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