It’s perfect half term entertainment for all the family, and if you can still manage to grab one of the few remaining tickets, you won’t be disappointed.
Under the confident direction of Lee Smith (who played Tinman last time the company performed this show exactly 11 years ago), the show retains the sparkling spirit of the MGM musical.
Auditions to find a Dorothy led the company to Holly Twells, who filled the ruby slippers to perfection. Her voice soared effortlessly in her opening number – the iconic Somewhere Over The Rainbow – conveying real sadness and teenage confusion. She couldn’t even be upstaged by the charming Poppy, playing the part of Toto, who nestled in her arms throughout the song.
Holly proved later to be a great dancer and her characterisation of Kansas youngster Dorothy was no Judy Garland impersonation. It was her own creation but with all the headstrong charm, vulnerability and humour of the original Dorothy.
Holly was surrounded by an equally talented cast. No weak links here at all.
Pointed hats off to Catherine Moore who was a pinch-faced, devilish Mrs Gulch and an equally evil Wicked Witch of the West.
The trio of Scarecrow, Tinman and Cowardly Lion were played with aplomb by Lindsey Biddle, O.J. Wright and Steven Foster respectively. We saw them first as the Kansas farmhands whose easy, natural camaraderie was warm and authentic. Those early scenes also introduced us to the hard-working Aunt Em (Karen Hambleton) and Uncle Henry (Andy Last). Aside from Dorothy’s blue and white dress, the set and the costumes were dominated by shades of grey that closely resembled the black and white scenes at the start of the film.
The tornado that dropped Dorothy in Oz also swept the audience into the multi-coloured world of the Munchkins – great teamwork here by a young but talented group of child performers who were always in synch with assured singing and lively dancing. Creative choreography here, and throughout, by director Lee.
I loved Karen Hambleton’s take on Glinda the good witch of the north whose English accent and self-deprecating delivery put me in mind of presenters Mel and Sue at their Great British Bake-Off best.
Andy Last created a lovely comedy cameo as the guard at the Emerald City and Iain Wishlade was enchanting as Professor Marvel and the ultimately unmasked Wizard.
All the cast members got the most out of the great gags and one-liners that The Wizard of Oz script offers through excellent comic timing. I’d forgotten quite how many there were until I heard them delivered so well. The company also added a few of its own little enhancements into the script, but without ever falling into the trap of spoiling anything by being a little too clever.
The set changes were slick and well-rehearsed, the costumes were excellent and the live orchestra under musical director David Blackwell filled the auditorium with that rich West End sound that makes you feel you’ve really had a top-notch night out. And we had.
The Wizard of Oz, by The Burton Musical Theatre Company is on at the de Ferrers Academy, Harehedge Lane Campus, every night until Saturday, February 20th, at 7.30pm. There is also a matinee on Saturday at 2.30pm.