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REVIEW: The Wizard of Oz at Newcastle Theatre Royal

The Wizard of Oz

Newcastle Theatre Royal 

Until Sunday 21 April 2024

This brash and breezy reboot brings some high energy glitz to the family favourite whilst the terrific cast bring all the heart and humour of the original, cleverly delivering a show that should delight both new audiences and traditionalists alike.

I’m very familiar with this show, both in its original incarnation and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s adaptation, but this is the first time I have seen Lloyd-Webber’s version. Understandably, given the age of the show, this makes a much bigger departure from the original. The changes include insertion of new numbers by Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice, for instance, to flesh out the role of the Wicked Witch of the West and to add more of a big finish to the show, the original having a quiet sort of wind-down to the end that may be a little understated for modern audiences.

These songs stand out in their pop sensibilities amongst the gentler songs of Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg and they vary in their effectiveness, though I enjoyed the Red Shoes Blues, delivered very effectively by The Vivienne, stylishly statuesque and having a great time as the witch. Also, Already Home, though oddly reminiscent of an Abba song, delivers the required power to the finale.

Overall, though, this is an affectionate adaptation, keeping the spirit and much of the text of the original, though there are a few comic lines tailored to modern audiences. It is imaginatively staged, with Colin Richmond’s minimal but effective scenery augmented by Alex Clarke’s colourful video. Scene changes were slickly delivered by the talented ensemble, a comparatively small team who worked like trojans and delivered Shay Barclay’s engaging choreography with panache.

As to the principals, Aviva Tulley had just the right blend of spirit and sweetness for Dorothy, with real vocal power. Benjamin Yates, in the dual role of Hunk and the scarecrow, was excellent. Loose-limbed and athletic, he was charm personified, acting, singing and dancing with equal skill and doing a great job of keeping everything together in his pivotal role.

Femi Akinfolarin was a funny and affecting Tin Man, with some great body-popping moves as he gradually emerged from his rusted state. This seemed like one of the most effective modernisations, presumably resulting from the original casting of Ashley Banjo in the role, though I don’t know if Banjo could have matched Akinfolarin’s acting and singing chops.

In the role of the Cowardly Lion, Nic Greenshields was a delight. Towering over the other characters and solidly built, he naturally had great presence, but his characterisation was terrific. I can personally testify that the role is one of the most rewarding in musical theatre and Greenshields made the most of it. He didn’t miss a gag, verbal or visual, and sang splendidly. I was disappointed that he didn’t get the opportunity to sing King of The Forest but that was probably about balancing the three characters more evenly.

Emily Bull was a perky and strong-voiced Glinda, zipping about on a pink scooter that looked straight out of the Barbie movie, as well as a sympathetic Aunt Em. David Burrows gave solid support as a weary Uncle Henry and a chirpy Ozian major domo.

Touring productions usually need a famous name to get bums on seats and sometimes they turn out to be the weak link. Not this time. Allan Stewart, who you may remember as a comedy impressionist on TV, has had a solid career in musicals and gave a first-rate performance as the bumbling Wizard, all chuckles and warmth. The biggest name, The Vivienne, drag race legend and Dancing on Ice finalist, showed she is a musical theatre performer of real ability and, needless to say, she looked amazing!

So, if some of the musical interjections weren’t to my taste and if the heavily miked ensemble numbers, clearly augmented by vocal tracks, were a bit loud and brassy, these are small gripes. This is a warm-hearted, slick, funny and thoroughly enjoyable show that delivers everything a family audience could want. All credit to the director, Nikolai Foster - and this outstanding cast.

Review: Jonathan Cash


The Wizard of Oz plays Newcastle Theatre Royal Tuesday 16 – Sunday 21 April 2024. Tickets can be purchased at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.

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