★★★★| This Christmas, Sheffield Theatres whisks you off to the Land of Oz, to join Dorothy, a Kansas farm girl, who follows the yellow brick road to the Emerald City to find the great and powerful Wizard of Oz. On the way, she is joined by the scarecrow, the tin man and a cowardly lion, all of whom have something to ask the Wizard themselves. But the four of them are pursued the Wicked Witch of the West, and Dorothy soon comes to realise that there is no place like home.
The Wizard of Oz needs very little introduction, and has been embraced by the gay community for many years – after all, with anything that is the source of the phrase “friend of Dorothy”, you can expect high camp and an iconic gay status.
The four main leads fill their characters with charm, in particular Max Parker as the Tinman, who brings a great singing voice and some nifty robotic steps to the stage. Andrew Langtree’s scarecrow is wonderfully reminiscent of a rag doll and Jonathan Broadbent’s Lion adds much of the comedic element. Gabrielle Brooks portrays Dorothy with innocence and wide-eyed wonder, although she did sometimes get a little lost amongst her more boisterous on stage travelling companions. But the real testament to her performance was her beautifully sung version of Over the Rainbow, with Brooks nailing the iconic moment with ease. Toto was portrayed by both a scene stealing puppy in Kansas and as a brilliantly performed puppet skilfully (and convincingly) operated by Rhiannon Wallace in Oz, helping to establish that the girl in gingham certainly wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
The production as a whole is beautifully done, in particular, Janet Bird’s set design is ingenious, and the transformation from Kansas to Oz is an unexpected delight. The stage is illuminated underfoot to form the yellow brick road, and everything from a large multi-purpose ensemble to puppetry to practical effects are used to great effect to bring the Land of Oz to life. Add to that a lighting design which is colourful, vivid and incredibly well thought out and some stunning costumes and you have a production which is a visual treat.
The majority of issues with the Wizard of Oz are primarily down to the book, rather than this production. The show itself takes a while to hit its stride, but then, so did the film; and once Dorothy starts to meet her travelling companions, the momentum starts to build, yielding to a much better second act. There were times when the show encroached into pantomime territory on occasions and the Wicked Witch was not particularly menacing, although this was more likely due to being toned down for a family audience rather than Catrin Aaron’s performance or ability. For a musical, the show is also relatively light on musical numbers, with only a handful of songs, but director Robert Hastie makes the most of them, especially in the rather jaunty opening to the second act.
With its high camp value and its snappy presentation, Sheffield Theatre’s production is light, airy and so colourful that rather than being taken over the rainbow, you are placed slap bang in the middle of it.
The Wizard of Oz plays at Sheffield Theatres until 20th January 2018, alongside their pantomime, Mother Goose playing until 7th January 2018 and their interactive production Rent Party until 23rd December 2017. Visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk for details and tickets.
In between visits to the theatre, watching films, photography, walking, scuba diving and singing (badly); Paul writes for TheGayUK.