REVIEW: The Wizard Of Oz, Curve Leicester ✭✭✭✭✭

Gary Stringer reviews The Wizard Of Oz, now playing as this year’s family Christmas offering from Leicester’s Curve Theatre.

The Wizard Of Oz review
Ben Thompson, Jonny Fines, Georgina Onuorah, Paul French, and Giovani Spano. Photo:- Marc Brenner

The Wizard of Oz
Curve Leicester
5 Stars
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Arriving in a whirlwind of imagination and wonder, the team at Curve Leicester transport us along the yellow brick road for this stunning production of The Wizard of Oz. Full of heart, ingenuity, thrills and scares this is a magical Christmas spectacle. Director Nikolai Foster creates a fresh take on L. Frank Baum’s pop culture behemoth, finding rewarding new ways to surprise in this oft-told tale, and with delightful nods to previous visits to the wonderful world of Oz, look out for Judy and Elton!

Set Designer Colin Richmond and Projection Designer Douglas O’Connell honour the cinematic tradition of the source material with truly immersive staging, taking us from a stark Kansas dustbowl to the cyberpunk technicolor riot that is the Emerald City with numerous inventive detours along the yellow brick road, a highway ingeniously highlighted as a series of witty arrows. The scenery and the costumes, by Rachel Canning draw on a hotchpotch of influences, with punk, anime, Camden market, the Pet Shop Boys and ‘80s action figures all thrown into the mix creating a dazzling maelstrom. Trippy and bewildering, this Oz really is out of this world.

Wizard Of Oz review
Charlotte Jaconelli as The Wicked Witch Of The West. Photo: Marc Brenner

Not just stunning visuals, as to be expected, this is a musical feast. Musical Supervisor and Director George Dyer orchestrate a rousing soundtrack that combines the much-loved original tunes by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg with new songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. A bombardment of sound and vision propelling us along on this journey to meet the wonderful wizard.

As Dorothy, Georgina Onuorah brings grit and no-nonsense determination to the role and sets the bar high early on with a superb rendition of the soundtrack touchstone “Over the Rainbow”, a paean to fortitude as she looks to find her place in the world. The friends of Dorothy are vividly brought to life, Paul French a staunchly resolute Tin Man, Giovanni Spano a rambunctious and not so cowardly Lion and an adorably acrobatic performance from Jonny Fines as the Scarecrow.

Wizard Of Oz review
The company of The Wizard Of Oz at Curve. Photo: Marc Brenner

In this Press Night performance, the Wicked Witch of the West was played with delicious mischief by Ellie Mitchell, zooming around the stage on her motorbike, a fascist industrialist hellbent on world domination and with getting her hands on the perfect accessory, the infamous ruby slippers! With a nod to Penelope Pitstop, Christina Bianco proved the best of frenemies and a candy floss counterpart as good witch Glinda, again with a motorbike standing in for a broomstick. As the titular wizard, Mark Peachy is perhaps expected to lurk in the shadows but switches effortlessly from ominous autocrat to avuncular showman. But let’s be clear, it’s the incredible expressive Toto that steals the show despite fierce competition, Ben Thompson’s incredible puppetry bringing Dorothy’s very best friend to life.

As well as a kaleidoscopic riot of sight and sound, this production serves to remind us that The Wizard of Oz is at heart a story about having the courage to accept our own unique identities, being true to ourselves and having the sense to let others do the same.  In the hectic pace of our 21st-century lives, a reminder that what is most important is often right under our noses, compassion, acceptance and a sense of wonder. Perfect sentiments for the festive period, this trip to Oz is one well worth taking, you’ll be in the best of company.

Until 8 January 2022.

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