Stars explained: * A production of no real merit
with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not
enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real
life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A
good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely
achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a
great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major
flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic
which lifts theatre to another plane.
René Blissett as Dorothy and Mark Hull as the Lion find themselves being infected with dance by the Jitterbugs.
The Wizard of Oz
Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Company
WHAT a splendid journey along the yellow brick road you find yourself joining to see the Wizard of Oz with this fine production.
It’s bright, quick paced, lively and thoroughly entertaining with a fine orchestra and even has a dog, Tetley, who steals the show as Toto – his (of is it her?) delicate escape from the clutches of the Wicked Witch of the West and her flying monkey is a comedy classic.
René Blissett commands the stage as Dorothy, a part which made a superstar of Judy Garland and has a pleasant alto voice which handles the film and musical’s iconic song, Over The Rainbow quite beautifully.
Why the people behind me decided the best-known song in the show needed the accompaniment of opening the world’s noisiest bag of sweets and then its equally noisy contents for the whole song – and much of Act 1 - is something only they and their maker will know.
Blissett has that nice combination of innocence as a young girl and then leadership of her motley band on their quest to see the Wizard.
The colourful and rather bizarre Munchkins
The colourful and rather bizarre Munchkins
Ben Adams who opens as farmhand Hunk, sadly not one of nature’s gifted, is a wonderful Scarecrow, never quiet steady on his feet and leaking straw everywhere he goes.
Then farmhand Hickory is played by Tony Orbell, who then shines (couldn’t resist that) as the Tin Man and displays a nice gentle tenor voice.
And larger than life is Mark Hull as first the boastful yet timid Zeke and then the cowardly lion who will fight anyone as long as they don’t fight back in a beautiful comic performance.
The trio both sing well and provide plenty of laughs and you really do start to care for them by the end as they seek to gain brain, heart and courage respectively.
Their nemesis is the Wicked Witch of the West in a marvellous performance from Christina Peak who we first come across as the prim, humourless and peevish Miss Almira Glitch who has a court order to have Toto destroyed as a dangerous dog claiming it had bit her leg pointing to high up her calf. This could have been a vindictive lie of course, as Toto would have struggled to reach much above the ankle, but we will let that pass.
But when the tornado carries Dorothy off to Munchkinland Peak turns into the most marvellous of pantomime villains as the Wicked Witch, a real cackly crone of a performance, warts and all.
Helen Simon is a solid homesteader as Aunt Em who turns into a sweet Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, who flies in from the skies. She is not the only one who flies though, with the company's chairman Sarah Clarke also appearing from the heavens, even managing an aerial somersault, as Nikko, the commander of the flying monkeys.
The Scarecrow, Ben Adams, surrounded by the crows ho
doesn't scare, explains his brainless dilemma to Dorothy
The Scarecrow, Ben Adams, surrounded by the crows ho doesn't scare, explains his brainless dilemma to Dorothy
There is good support too from Elliot Beech as both gruff Uncle Henry and also the Emerald City Policeman and from Patrick Jervis as the marvellous Prof Marvel, mind reader and fortune teller, and the rather less than wizardly Wizard of Oz.
This is a big production with an ensemble of 18 who become trees, guards, jitterbugs and Munchkins – a collection of cheery if somewhat bizarre chappies in a land where it appears being normal would be frowned upon. They are decked out in a collection of weird and wonderful costumes, which is a hallmark of the whole show – every costume looking the part whether it is apple trees or the Winkie guards under their General played by James Rowney.
The same goes for the excellent sets from the farmstead with its working farm cart to the hall of the wizard with its plumes of smoke. There are a lot of scenes and sets – changes are fast and efficient which, with the excellent costumes designed and created by Suzanne Harris and Tracey Firkins, all point to an expensive production which shows in what is a quality staging.
But that would count for nothing without the show’s strong principals and a good ensemble who are helped by some slick choreography from Jen Morris
She gets the best out of her cast with some lively routines while Deb Middleton, on an impresive directing debut keeps up a decent pace in a show that runs for 20 minutes short of three hours.
And throughout it all the first-rate ten piece orchestra under musical director Jenny Andrews provide a big sound to go with what is a big production.
There were a couple of technical issues with snow and a malfunctioning mic, and the pace dropped a little at times in Act II but hardly enough to detract from what is a fine show.
Sutton has gone for the Royal Shakespeare Company version from 1988 which is closer to the 1939 film, a version which is technically more demanding, but they have pulled it off well.
Tony Orbell as the Tin Man, displaying a nice line in a
soft can shuffle with the apple trees in support
Tony Orbell as the Tin Man, displaying a nice line in a soft can shuffle with the apple trees in support
The difficult scenes of first the tornado carrying Dorothy away and then the red shoes transporting her back are achieved by a full stage video of a swirling vortex and characters being sucked in – reversed for the trip back to Kansas and there are plenty of flashes and bangs, along with some special effects trickery, including a dissolving witch, all timed to perfection by the technical crew.
Now perhaps I should be honest and admit that although The Wizard of Oz was a fine film, it is one of my least favourite stage musicals. I have seen amateur productions and endured a big budget professional attempt in London where you had the feeling a man with arthritis and a wooden leg could have walked Land’s End to John o’Groats faster than the cast managed their trip along the yellow brick road.
So this was quite a pleasant surprise, by far the best production I have yet seen. Say it quietly but I might even be starting to like the show. Dorothy is flying to Oz and back to 29-10-16