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REVIEW: The Wizard of Oz (UK Tour, Edinburgh Playhouse)

14 February 2024

Edinburgh Playhouse

⭐⭐⭐


The Vivienne in The Wizard of Oz. Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Dorothy Gale and her little dog Toto have left Kansas and have arrived at The Edinburgh Playhouse with the new stage production of the iconic MGM film The WIzard of Oz. The show has already proved incredibly popular with Edinburgh audiences: Over 21,000 tickets have been sold so far for this half term week.


Based on the book by L. Frank Baum, the classic Judy Garland film is one that I and many others grew up with. The story is timeless and the score is legendary.


As Dorothy and Toto find themselves in a peculiar land, they team up with a scarecrow, a tin man and a cowardly lion to battle the Wicked Witch of the West and find their way back home.


Featuring unforgettable songs such as 'Over The Rainbow', 'Follow The Yellow Brick Road' and 'We're Off To See the Wizard' the stage production has a huge responsibility to uphold the enduring legacy of the oscar-winning film.


Aviva Tulley in The Wizard of Oz UK Tour. Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Staying faithful to the plot of the film, the show opens on a farm in Kansas where we meet Dorothy (Aviva Tulley) who dreams of escaping to somewhere 'Over the Rainbow.'


It must be unusual in the theatre world for the lead character to have their biggest solo song just a few minutes into a show. But that's what happens in the Wizard of Oz. Previously voted "the greatest song of the 20th century" Tulley's version of 'Over the Rainbow' is frankly, sublime. You could hear a pin drop in the cavernous 3,000 seat auditorium as her exquisite voice filled the Edinburgh Playhouse.


Swept up by a tornado and transported to Munchkinland, Dorothy meets Glinda the good witch (Emily Bull) who encourages her to 'Follow the yellow brick road' to find the mysterious Wizard of Oz who can probably help her get back home.


Unlike in that other popular musical set in Oz - Wicked - this Glinda does not travel by bubble. Rather Bull's Glinda arrives on a Barbie pink moped dressed in cool, contemporary clothes. The costumes by Rachael Canning for the entire show are bright and creative. I love that they are never quite what we expect. There is a clever, modern twist on every character for every situation, and this is one thing this show excels at: The costumes are stunning.


Also designed by Canning, the puppet for Toto the dog is a main character in himself. Operated superbly by Abigail Matthews, Toto is a fully realised, spirited, tail-wagging sidekick for Dorothy, and much more successful and reliable than a 'real' animal actor. The scene where Toto 'explains' to the lion where to find Dorothy is one of the true laugh-out loud moments in the show.


Emily Bull and Aviva Tulley in The Wizard of Oz. Photo credit: Marc Brenner

The stage for The Wizard of Oz is brilliantly colourful thanks primarily to magnificent lighting design by Ben Cracknell. Cracknell never misses, and here his lighting transforms an otherwise pretty bare stage into something spectacular. Outlined in strip lights that scan through all colours of the rainbow to reflect the scene being played out on stage, the lighting is a stand-out element from before the show begins until after the cast have left the stage at the end. There were a few occasions when I was blinded by bright, white lights that I could've done without, but they were thankfully, rare. (Note for anyone with a sensitivity to light: Flashing lights are used heavily during the tornado scene.)


Aviva Tulley in The Wizard of Oz. Photo credit: Marc Brenner

The stage is bare because this show relies heavily on projections rather than on physical sets. Other than a few large set pieces and props, all backgrounds and situational elements in The Wizard of Oz are achieved via film. This approach is being used more and more nowadays, and is an understandable creative preference to large, heavy scenery in some circumstances. I do understand some critics and audience members are not a fan of this medium in live theatre, but I found they worked well in this show and are certainly the most cinematic I've seen. Douglas O’Connell's vision for the city of Oz and for the Wicked Witch of the West's HQ are particularly impressive and futuristic. I loved the nod to Broadway.


Thankfully the iconic yellow brick road is not a projection but is achieved via innovative, roving platforms. The concept here is inspired; the road can be moved out of the way to allow other elements to take centre stage as the gang make their way to the merry old land of Oz.


The Vivienne and Aviva Tulley in The Wizard of Oz. Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Taking on the role of The Wizard for the Edinburgh run, television favourite Gary Wilmot does a great job of bringing the curious charlatan to life. However he doesn't have a lot of stage time - this isn't a role that's going to tax him in any way.


More central to the action, RuPaul's Drag Race UK winner The Vivienne is a delicious WIcked Witch. Her makeup is flawless, her costumes are divine and she has the stage presence and charisma needed to thrive as the ultimate baddie. With undeniable star power, The Vivienne stole every scene she was in. And despite playing the villain of the tale, I did not hear one 'boo' ring out as she took her bows. Sometimes audiences forget that we are not at pantomime and boo the baddies in a play or musical... But such was the power of The Vivienne's performance, such is her charm and appeal, there was nothing but tumultuous applause. I was entirely captivated and mesmerised by her. A true superstar excelling in a role she was born to play.


Other standout performances came from Benjamin Yates (Scarecrow) who did a miraculous job of making a pretty 2-dimensional character extremely funny, charming and likeable. And Phantom and Les Mis legend Nic Greenshields is uproarious as the camp, cowardly lion. His powerful voice is unmistakable, but this is Greenshields as I've never seen him before. His performance is priceless and he looks like he's having the time of his life.



The recognisable score from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz is central to the appeal of this production. How different a show this would've been had they not been permitted to include the familiar classics we all know and love! Thankfully, that's not the case and we are treated to an evening of glorious music played with expertise and gusto by a fabulous live orchestra. The original songs are always going to be the crowd-pleasers, but the additional musical numbers from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice are solid too. 


I did find the music overpowered the cast at times. Dorothy's mic level in particular was too low; I found it difficult to make out much of her dialogue when she wasn't singing. There also seemed to be a rush to move on from the musical numbers immediately, and as such we often lost the next spoken line as it was drowned out by applause.


The Wizard of Oz UK Tour company. Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Despite some 5-star performances and excellent production values, I wasn't wowed by this show. All the component parts for a successful musical are present, and it's a story I both know and love. I enjoyed it, but it didn't rock my world.


Regardless, I would have no hesitation recommending The Wizard of Oz as a great activity for theatre-goers young and old in Edinburgh this half term. All the characters, plotlines and nostalgia we oldies are looking for are there, but it's fresh and modern enough to not feel dated in the slightest. With gorgeous visuals, bright appealing aesthetics and (mostly) upbeat music, this is one your kids are sure to be entertained by and enjoy.


The Wizard of Oz plays 8 performances only at the UK’s largest all-seated theatre, The Edinburgh Playhouse from Tue 13 – Sat 17 February. The last few remaining tickets can be purchased HERE


 

The Vivienne and Gary Wilmot in The Wizard of Oz. Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Scottish listings: The Wizard of Oz UK Tour 2024


*AD - some links are affiliate links


13 – 17 Feb 2024                                             

🌈 Edinburgh Playhouse, Edinburgh

 

2 – 7 Jul 2024

🌈 King’s Theatre, Glasgow

(Starring Craig Revel Horwood and Allan Stewart)

 

9 – 13 Jul 2024

🌈 His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen

(Starring Craig Revel Horwood and Allan Stewart)


More dates and info: 

THE WIZARD OF OZ


 

The Wizard of Oz UK Tour Creatives

Music by Harold Arlen

Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg

Additional Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Additional Lyrics by Tim Rice

Adaption by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams

Orchestrations by David Cullen

Orchestrations adapted by George Dyer

 

From the book by L. Frank Baum

Based Upon the Classic Motion Picture owned by Warner Media, and produced with the permission of Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures and EMI Music Publishing

 

Director Nikolai Foster

Choreographer Shay Barclay

Set Designer Colin Richmond

Projection Designer Douglas O’Connell

Costume and Puppet Designer Rachael Canning

Lighting Designer Ben Cracknell

Sound Designer Adam Fisher

Creative Consultant Mark Kaufman

Musical Supervisor George Dyer

Casting by Debbie O’Brien

Props Supervisor Marcus Hall

PropsWigs, Hair and Makeup Designer Elizabeth Marini


The Wizard of Oz on tour is presented Michael Harrison, Gavin Kalin Productions, David Mirvish, Crossroads Live, Nick Thomas, Rupert Gavin and Mallory Factor, Jake Hine and Playing Field, by arrangement with the Really Useful Group Ltd.


 

🎟️ Disclosure: I was invited to review this show and received a complimentary ticket in exchange. Whether I am invited or not has absolutely no impact on my reviews or star ratings.



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🌈 REVIEW: The Wizard of Oz UK Tour, Edinburgh Playhouse, February 2024. The Vivienne, Gary Wilmot, Aviva Tulley 🌈


Lisa in the theatre, theater, reviews, blog, Scotland, Scottish

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