FOR A show that’s got brains, plenty of heart and not a little courage, follow the Yellow Brick Road for a fabulous night in the theatre.
This stage musical production of the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz — etched so firmly in our minds from regular Christmas TV showings — delivers to the audience, like Dorothy, everything our hearts desire.
Director Robert Hastie’s sparkling, intelligent production nails it right from the start as we are off to see the Wizard, with Dorothy leaving tornado-hit Kansas behind.
The girl with the ruby slippers delves into the dark side, seeing off wicked witches and demons, flying monkeys and spooky one-eyed “winkies” only to find a slightly crazy old man no more a wizard than the rest of us but who has learned wit and wisdom from life's experiences.
Sharply-penned songs from Yip Harburg, who wrote Buddy Can You Spare a Dime after seeing food queues in the US during the Depression, with music from Harold Arlen are unmistakeable, including, of course, Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead (which has added meaning in these parts), the variations on If I Only Had A Brain and a show stopping The Merry Old Land Of Oz.
Janet Bird’s fantastic set design — with circular disc underlighting to provide the Yellow Brick Road and another huge disc rising from the stage to create the Emerald City —is matched by Ewan Jones’ exuberant dance routines and uplifting sounds from Toby Higgins’ elevated big band.
Gabrielle Brooks is a delightful Dorothy, showing a real sense of joy and wonder and setting the scene perfectly with her strong, melodic singing of Somewhere Over The Rainbow.
Jonathan Broadbent, Andrew Langtree and Max Parker, as farm hands Zeke, Hunk and Hickory transforming into Dorothy’s fantasy friends the (cowardly) Lion, Scarecrow and Tinman lovingly craft their roles with charm, affection and, as the Lion would say, plenty of “vim and voive”.
Each create distinct characters. Broadbent, works the Brooklyn accent well as the Lion, dishing out the gags with great timing and delivering If I Were King Of The Forest with great comic aplomb.
Langtree’s kindhearted Scarecrow exudes vibrant warmth and when Dorothy asks him how he can speak without a brain tellingly replies that plenty of people talk a lot without them.
Parker as a dancing Tinman, who desperately seeks a heart, is a nifty mover with his own subtle humour and oil can at the ready.
A wonderfully wicked Witch Of The West (and the horrible Miss Gulch) is played by Catrin Aaron, complete with ear-piercing cackle, leading everyone a merry dance in a rousing Jitterbug ball.
Sophia Nomvete is tremendous as loving Aunt Em and the good Witch Of The North, displaying great presence and a knockout voice, while Michael Matus shines as the likeable Uncle Henry and the overbearing gatekeeper, while Ryan Ellsworth is magic as Professor Marvel and a twinkly-eyed Wizard of Oz.
Toto, Dorothy’s little dog, is brilliantly brought to life by puppeteer Rhiannon Wallace in the Emerald City scenes while a very cute, real dog steals the show back in Kansas.
Where to go for the best time this holiday? It’s a no-brainer.