The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz has landed in Manchester for a limited run at The Palace Theatre.

If you don't know the story of Dorothy et al, you must have been laying under a house that fell out of the sky for the last 85 years. But I digress. The Wizard of Oz tells the story of Dorothy Gale (Aviva Tulley), a Kansas farm girl who winds up in the merry old land of Oz with her pet dog, Toto (Abigail Matthews)- after a cyclone hits the farm that she shares with her Uncle Henry and Auntie Em.

She soon learns from Glinda (Emily Bull), the Good Witch of the North, that the only way she can return home is to follow the yellow brick road to the Wizard of Oz. Along the way, she makes friends in Scarecrow (Benjamin Yates), Tin Man (Aston Merrygold) and the Cowardly Lion (Jason Manford). Dorothy also makes an enemy in the iconic Wicked Witch of the West, played by British drag superstar, The Vivienne.

Jeremy Sam’s modernised adaptation remains true to the original story, with the themes of friendship and living life as an outsider remaining relevant a century on. With further creatives including Tim Rice, Andrew Lloyd Webber and director Nikolai Foster, is this a dream as magical as Oz or the sad reality that is Kansas after the storm hits?

Whilst arguably one of the most beloved films of all time, this iteration of The Wizard of Oz doesn’t quite hit the standard audiences have come to expect from adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s anthology of Oz.

Don’t get me wrong, the cast are truly stellar. Tulley takes us on an emotive journey of Dorothy’s discovery that there’s no place like home. With both vulnerability and headstrong decisions, combined with her phenomenal voice, I couldn’t imagine a better suited performer to portray our protagonist.

The Vivienne shows off her impressive vocal skills and plays a truly camp Wicked Witch. Although at times the role can be quite sinister when combined with Adam Fisher’s sound design and David Cullen’s orchestration, The Vivienne adds humour to these scenes, reminiscent of Joan Rivers.

Dorothy’s friends along the way all have their moment to shine. Yates makes the role of Scarecrow his own and embodies it with excellent vocals and comic timing. Merrygold shows off his dancing talent through Shay Barclay’s choreography, though it’s a shame he doesn’t really get a chance to show off his stunning vocals. Manford’s lion is an almost identical portrayal to that of Bert Lahrs in the original movie, giving the audience some familiarity in the newly imagined land of Oz.

Dorothy’s canine friend, Toto (with expert puppeteering by Matthews) came close, in parts, to stealing the show. Although in some productions the puppeteer can distract, Toto comes to life beautifully under Matthews’ guardianship.

Remarkably though, the show falls short with its lack of magic. With touring productions, it’s understandable that set pieces may have to be scaled down, however, when staging a show where the Wicked Witch has a broomstick- yet walks on and off the stage- with flying monkeys that don’t fly- one must consider why this decision was made? Granted, some productions are screen heavy, without need of a set- namely Sunset Boulevard, sweeping the 2024 Oliver Awards. However, when relying predominantly on projections to set the scene (video design by Douglas O’Connell), the audience here is left desperate to be fully immersed. Colin Richmond’s set design, for the most part, works well when on stage, however other scenes fall flat due to the sparsity.

Ben Cracknell’s lighting design is glorious and takes us on the journey from Kansas to Oz seamlessly. Thankfully, it heavily complimented the usage of screens throughout- especially during the twister.

Rachael Canning’s costume design is a treat for the eyes. Whilst taking reference from the movie, I don’t think we will ever see Miss Gulch looking so glamourous again – part credit to The Vivienne’s impeccable makeup skills (how she transforms into the witch in such a short space of time is mind-blowing!)

Orchestrations adapted by Musical Supervisor George Dyer, lift the score no end. Rousing from the off, the original, Academy Award winning, score has never sounded so commanding and fresh.

To give credit where it’s due, this is a courageous production which takes such a well-loved, classic story and catapults it fearlessly down a freshly laid yellow brick road towards a new generation of fans- with such an impressive cast at its beating heart. The nostalgia of the piece never fails to stir up those all too familiar emotions- however, when the source material is so iconic, there needs to be more of wow factor for it to truly cast its spell and stand the test of time.

This show was reviewed on the 25th April 2024 at the Palace Theatre, Manchester where it runs until the 5th May 2024.  Tickets available here: The Wizard of Oz Tickets | Palace Theatre Manchester in Manchester | ATG Tickets

Full tour details can be found here: Wizard of Oz • UK Tour Dates (

Review written by Lee Gregory


Photo credit: Marc Brenner

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