We may be seeing awkward first dates and dastardly ugly sisters with cutting ‘Daddy’s’ playing the Tobacco Factory in Beauty and The Beast and Victorian fairy tales with a powerful punch at Bristol Old Vic but the show that will really get you into the Christmas spirit this season is Bristol Old Vic theatre schools The Wizard Of Oz, a five-star hit that leaves you beaming ear to ear from the moment Liyah Summers Dorothy first opens her mouth to sing the iconic ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ all the way through to the final refrain of ‘Follow The Yellow Brick Road’ which elicits a genuine standing ovation. The MGM version may be required viewing each Christmas but this is a show that demands repeat viewing itself. It should be prescribed on the NHS to cure bah humbug disorder.
There are very few people who aren’t at least somewhat familiar with the plot, either with L. Frank Baun’s 1900 novel or the MGM film that catapulted its leading lady Judi Garland to stardom. Yet for those who are not farm girl Dorothy and her beloved dog Toto are swept up in a Tornado, end up in the Technicolor world of Oz and a feud with the Wicked Witch Of The West, meeting the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion on route along the Yellow Brick Road while learning there really is no place like home. Its familiarity allows you to just sit back and luxuriate in the famous melodies and set pieces that this RSC version gobbled up practically whole from the 1939 movie. It’s no surprise that the work is a family classic, with lots of fun, classic tunes, a few moral truths handled lightly and just enough peril to scare the little ones without giving them nightmare for years. It’s a show in truth difficult to get wrong.
Yet what makes this one so right, under the direction of Peter Leslie Wild, is how fully the 16 strong ensemble embrace the world they create. It’s rare for such a big show but each member of the cast gives telling detail here, from Felix Garcia Guyers saxophone wielding Emerald City Guard to Marco Young’s zombified Winkie, face contorted into drooping gormlessness. Summers is an open hearted Dorothy, admittedly stronger in her vocals in the middle of her range then the top but with a warm honeyed sound that makes the songs her own even under the shadow of Garland’s vocals, while Gráinne O’Mahony is an ethereal Glinda designed to make little girls and boys want to dress in sparkly dresses this Christmas. She is pitted against Bonnie Baddoo’s Witch, clearly having a ball playing evil.
Cecilia Crossland as Tin Man, Pedro Leandro as Scarecrow and Alex Wilson as the Lion all make telling contributions as the friends of Dorothy gathered on the way, Wilson especially makes a mark as the pugilistic lion who lacks machismo but never heart. For this year’s premier Bristol Christmas show the Redgrave is the place to be. Bristol Old Vic Theatre School always produce a good Christmas show but this is my favourite yet. Follow The Yellow Brick Road right along to the box office.
The Wizard Of Oz plays at The Redgrave Theatre until the 19 December.