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Phil Hopkins
Group Travel Editor & Theatre Correspondent
@philhopkinsuk
1:00 AM 21st March 2024
arts

The Wiz Iz The Biz!

 
A pink Barbie-style scooter for the good witch, subtle references to Andy Warhol and a body popping tinman, would most probably have had author L Frank Baum applauding from his California grave!

And, whilst the wicked Witches of the East and West may be dead, this latest take on The Wizard of Oz, so famously popularised by Judy Garland in Jack Warner’s 1940 movie musical of the same name, is alive, well and brimming with fun.

Bradford’s Alhambra was as full as I’ve ever seen it and with good reason because every generation was there: grandma to relive Garland’s Over The Rainbow, the thirty something’s to laugh along with drag queen, The Vivienne (aka Ms Gulch and Wicked Witch of the West) and youngsters to simply enjoy a wonderful piece of theatrical escapism.

And, despite some pre show scepticism, I have to say that The Vivienne (aka Welsh drag queen James Lee Williams) was excellent and completely won me over.

Original champion of the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, his list of theatre credits may be limited, however, his stage experience is, no doubt, comprehensive meaning Williams is confident and not afraid of an audience.

As a complete ‘piece’ The Wizard of Oz nails it. Full of energy, with a great score, witty libretto and stunning costumes, the theatre was awash with colour.

Dorothy (Aviva Tulley) was divine with a fine set of pipes whilst Scarecrow (Benjamin Yates), Tin Man (Femi Akinfolarin) and Nic Greenshields as The Cowardly Lion, played off one another brilliantly.

And I loved all the subtle references in the production: there was Andy Warhol’s Campbell soup tin featured as wall art in the Poppy Motel; Emerald City, doubling as a cityscape straight from Times Square, featured a billboard ad for Bolger’s Coffee (Ray Bolger was the original Scarecrow in Warner’s movie) and, for the keen eyed, Grant Wood’s American Gothic art peered subtly from another poster alongside adverts for The Lahr King and The Phantom of Oz! After all the additional music was by Andrew Lloyd Webber!

It was nice to see Gary Wilmot as Professor Marvel & The Wizard and, even though his appearances are small, his timing is beautiful and diction clear. Not hard to understand why he began his career as a comedian.

Punchy, modern and a musical for the current generation Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams’ adaptation is a production for 2024.

It uses digitised scenery brilliantly, in order to convey movement, time and place, powerfully, moving the storyline along without effort, but it still remains true to the musical past with lots of ‘tangible’ scenery.

And the yellow brick road? Of course it was there but it was moved around the stage by actors in bright yellow steward uniforms: Michael O’Leary would have been proud to have had any of them on one of his Ryanair planes!

A great evening of entertainment that shouldn’t be missed.

The Wizard of Oz
Alhambra Theatre, Bradford
Until Saturday 23rd March.