The Wizard of Oz (2024), Playhouse, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Aviva Tulley in The Wizard of Oz, 2024. Picture credit: Marc Brenner.
Show details
The Really Useful Group Limited
Frank L. Baum (Book), Harold Arlen (Music), E.Y. Harburg (Lyrics), Andrew Lloyd Webber (Additional Music/Adaptation), Tim Rice (Additional Lyrics), Jeremy Sams (Adaptation), Nikolai Foster (Director), Shay Barclay (Choreographer), Colin Richmond (Set Design), Douglas O’Connell (Projection Design), Rachael Canning (Costume/Puppet Design), Ben Cracknell (Lighting Design), Adam Fisher (Sound Design), Mark Kaufman (Creative Consultant), George Dyer (Musical Supervisor), Debbie O’Brien (Casting Director)
Aviva Tulley (Dorothy), Gary Wilmot (The Wizard), Ms Gulch/Wicked Witch of the West (The Vivienne), Benjamin Yates (Scarecrow/Hunk), Marley Fenton (Tin Man/Hickory), Nic Greenshields (Cowardly Lion/Zeke), Emily Bull (Glinda), Abigail Matthews (Toto), David Burrows (Uncle Henry), Adam Craig (Onstage Swing), Cole Dunn (Ensemble), Tyler Ephraim (Ensemble), Olivia-Kate Holding (Ensemble), Thomas Kalek (Ensemble), Sadie Levett (Ensemble), Kelsie-Rae Marshall (Onstage Swing), Martin McCarthy (Offstage swing), Rose Ouellette (Onstage Swing), Fanja Parent (Ensemble), Alexandra Regan (Offstage Swing), Nathan Routledge (Ensemble), Sydney Spencer (Ensemble).

They are usually called classics for a reason, and with endless tours of Wicked, as well as the freshly released trailer of the (awful looking) big screen adaptation, it is refreshing to return to the tale that inspired the origin story of the Wicked Witch of the West.

We all know this well-trodden yellow brick road tale, as Dorothy (Aviva Tulley) dreams of being anywhere but the Kansas farm she shares with her aunt and uncle, tormented by a neighbour who wants her dog Toto destroyed. When a tornado hits she’s transported to the magical land of Oz and meets an eclectic bunch, not dissimilar to the characters at home, who  journey to the Emerald City with her to defeat the Wicked Witch of the West (The Vivienne) and be granted their wishes by the wonderful Wizard of Oz (Gary Wilmot) - brains for Scarecrow (Benjamin Yates), a heart for the Tin Man (Marley Fenton), courage for the Cowardly Lion (Nic Greenshields) and a trip back to Kansas for Dorothy. 

Directed by Nikolai Foster, and fresh from a hit run at the London Palladium, The Wizard of Oz features the iconic Oscar-winning film soundtrack, plus additional songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. This version merges classic with contemporary in a media mash up of stage and screen, as the adventures of Dorothy and her friends is reframed in a luminously screened proscenium arch with heavy use of projection, creating a fast-paced VR gaming experience as we travel from nostalgic, drab Kansas to a zany Oz that’s reflecting a more sinister capitalist consumer culture with a metropolitan mix of Las Vegas meets New York (Ozzo gas stations, Ozbucks coffee, Ozdonalds anyone?) 

Guided by the dazzling Glinda the Good Witch (Emily Bull), who’s had a Barbie makeover and rocks a bright pink Vespa instead of a Bubble, the cast knock it out of the park, despite some clunky pop culture inclusions, to deliver a world that the audience are immediately immersed in, with Colin Richmond’s Kansas set a glowing white tub of mirrored coldness easily bedazzled by the technicoloured Oz. Delivering unapologetic storytelling joy, Frank Baum’s source material continues to resonate with its simple lessons learned message, accompanied by the Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg heartwarming score from a cast in fine voice. 

An excited all ages audience, featuring many plaid dresses, plaited pigtails and ruby (and silver) sparkly shoes were enthralled by a strong ensemble with stellar leads ensuring they brightened everyone’s evening. ‘Over the Rainbow’ is a dangerous song, countless versions  numbing us to its simple yet powerful melody embodied in Judy Garland’s film version. Aviva Tulley gets straight to business, introducing us to her bright, sassy Dorothy with her beautiful tone ensuring she makes the song her own, inducing goosebumps and rapturous applause.

Gary Wilmot is a charming, convincing Wizard delivering his part with ease, Benjamin Yates’ Scarecrow is a goofball in fine voice, balancing idiocy and soft-boned movement that had the audience chuckling, while Nic Greenshield’s Cowardly Lion gained big laughs. Marley Fenton’s Tin Man robotic moves were hypnotic… not sure about the Hamilton-esque rap breakout though. 

Looking wickedly fabulous, and channelling some serious pantomime spirit, The Vivienne is a wonderful bit of stunt casting, as this RuPaul’s Drag Race UK winner relishes every moment on stage, eating up every line and belting out a tune, with her exit a highlight (no shade), earning a well deserved round of applause at curtain call.  

The biggest “marmite” of this version’s casting, though, has to go to Toto. Expertly manoeuvered by Abigail Matthews, this clever puppet is beautifully made but operated by a full-sized human being. Some may fail to separate the handler from the canine, causing a distraction, while others may be charmed by this counterpoint to the overwhelming hi-tech wizardry everywhere else. I’ll let you decide.

Because it’s worth taking the trip this week to the merry old land of Oz, to enjoy a truly theatrical spectacle that will please die hard fans of the silver screen classic as well as satisfy youngsters new to a timeless tale. 

The Wizard of Oz is at Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday 17 February.

© Lindsay Corr, February 2024