Friday, December 28, 2007

"The Wizard of Oz" - December 2007

Although we've seen a number of shows in Edinburgh this year, it's still a bit of an effort and "The Wizard of Oz" at the Lyceum was very much borderline when we drew up our winter schedule back in August. But that changed when we heard one vital piece of information - that Denise Hoey, whose performance as Little Voice had been one of the highlights of our year, had been cast as Dorothy. Suddenly the show was transformed to one of our most anticipated shows - and that was before all the glowing reviews appeared in the press. But then again, we'd had recent experience of being burned by strong reviews.

But within two minutes of the start it's clear we've got nothing to worry about and are in for an absolute treat. The tone of the show is immediately established once Hoey's Dorothy appears with Toto (in the form of a well worked hand puppet) and it's very much an affectionate presentation of the original rather than a post-modern knowing take on it. There's plenty of humour and physicality, and the songs are lovingly performed by the strong cast. Although there were a few children whose attention wandered, mainly those who were too young to have been there, for the most part the show held the audience, young and old, in rapt attention.

Hoey of course brings her stunning vocals to the role, but as with Little Voice her acting is equally impressive, delivering a wonderful combination of charm, innocence and indignation.

It's a very strong cast all round with Matthew Pidgeon's Scarecrow/Hunk a particular favourite. But it's Julie Austin as the Wicked Witch/Miss Gultch who has the hardest task. After our trip to "Wicked" I wasn't sure I could ever look at the Wicked Witch in the same way again, but Austin almost had me booing and hissing with the rest of the audience.

The sets are stunning and the video projection used for a number of elements is the best use of video images I've come across. But while certainly magical, the show isn't quite perfect. The munchkins/Emerald City residents are from the Lyceum Youth Theatre and although their choreography was excellent the apparent use of backing tracks for some of the singing was a little jarring and certainly brought me 'out of the moment'. The only other scene that didn't quite work for me was the melting of the Witch - although the melting was very well portrayed the use of glitter to represent the bucket of water was disappointingly low tech - there must be a more creative way of doing this.

But none of that comes close to taking away from what is a wonderful piece of theatre, put together with fantastic production values and brought to life by a delightful cast. A shining example of what a Christmas show should be.

Image used with permission