The Wizard of Oz – New Theatre, Oxford

Reviewer: Simon Tavener

Writer: L. Frank Baum

Music: Harold Arlen

Lyrics: E.Y. Harburg

Additional Music and Lyrics: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice

Adaptors: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams

Director: Nikolai Foster

The first stage version of The Wizard of Oz was written in 1902, this touring production uses the script and score put together for the London revival more than a century later. There was, of course, a rather successful film adaptation in the 1930s which still has the best songs of any retelling of Baum’s original.

There is no doubting the polish and professionalism on display in the current revival. Directed with purpose by Nikolai Foster, it comes to life through the energetic choreography by Shay Barclay which is delivered with commitment by the talented ensemble. The visuals are particularly impressive with the outstanding projection design by Douglas O’Connell and his team.

On the whole, the cast is strong. The trio of Benjamin Yates (Scarecrow), Nic Greenshields (Lion) and Martin McCarthy (Tin Man) do great work in bringing their own flair to these iconic roles. Their timing, vocals and physicality are just what you need with these characters.

Aviva Tulley as Dorothy has a strong voice and delivers Somewhere Over the Rainbow in a fresh but still authentic way. She has a pleasing stage presence but is somewhat overshadowed during ensemble numbers due to an unhelpful sound balance.

The star of the show is The Vivienne as the Wicked Witch. She brings exactly the right blend of camp and evil to the role. She relishes every opportunity and particularly shines in the Act Two number Red Shoe Blues. This is by far the strongest of the new songs written for this version by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice and The Vivienne brings the house down with it.

Where the production does not shine is with the sound. Oxford’s New Theatre is notorious as a venue where the sound balance is hard to perfect but that is no excuse for an over loud sound design that obscures the lyrics and dialogue in almost every number. The mix between voices and orchestra is off throughout which is unfair on the cast and the audience.

The other issue is with the weakness of the adaptation. With one exception, the new music is not close to matching the quality of the songs made famous by the film and the new dialogue does not provide convincing clarity to the narrative or characterisation. There are better stage adaptations which the production could have chosen that would give the cast a stronger showcase for their considerable talents.

Overall this is still a great piece of family entertainment delivered with panache and polish.

Runs until 14 January 2024 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Polished but not perfect

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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