Writer: L. Frank Baum
Music & Lyrics: Harold Arlen & E.Y. Harburg
Adaptor: John Kane
Director: Alex Clifton
Reviewer: Kevin James
Under the artistic directorship of Alex Clifton, Chester’s premiere arts venue Storyhouse has certainly made an impact in the arts output of the city, the excellent duel venue summer season being a highlight of any theatregoer in the region. The Wizard of Oz, however, seems to have left the magic in the rehearsal room. If only the great and all-powerful Oz could bestow Clifton’s production with clarity, soul and pace then it may be the show-stopping production it so desperately wants to be.
There are certainly some interesting ideas in Clifton’s interpretation and alongside James Perkin’s sparse rusted metallic set which strips Oz of almost all its colour and indeed scenic elements (apart from the spectrum of colour painted by Prema Mehta’s lighting design) the stage is certainly set for what could be something truly unique and bold, but, sadly it limps slowly and sluggishly through its 2hr40 minute running time. The jokes fall flat, the performances never truly sparkle and one leaves the auditorium feeling that we have possibly witnessed one of the safest productions of The Wizard of Oz produced. It’s just not fierce or bold enough to make a real impact.
As Dorothy Gale – the young protagonist who is whipped to Oz from her farmhouse home in Kansas – Consuela Rolle gives a confident enough performance but her journey seems to lack range, leaving us with one surprised expression after the other. Like the set design Zara Ramm’s Wicked Witch of the East has also been drained of all colour and menace, here were given a performance that seems more frustrated nanny, than evil witch seeking revenge for the death of her sister.
Similarly lacklustre are the performances from Ben Oliver as the Tin Man and Natalie Woods as the Scarecrow with only Richard Colvin’s Lion bringing anything close to the energy needed to bring these characters to life. Something that the young ensemble of dancers from Chester’s House of Dance don’t need to worry about. In one of the only truly unique moments in the production, their hip-hop/street dancing munchkins are a real delight and delivered with aplomb. A shame that the rest of the production couldn’t follow suit and really find its own identity.
The real highlight of this production is hearing the musical score played by a 10-piece orchestra, the score rich and melodic and expertly delivered under the baton of young but increasingly in demand George Francis – after hearing his work here, it makes the announcement of Ameliethe musical even more appetising.
Like the story’s Lion and Tin Man, Storyhouse’s production seems to be going through a major identity crisis and needs more courage and certainly a lot more heart to really make it the magical production is so promised to be.
Runs until 6 January 2019 | Image: Contributed