Frank Baum wrote the original Wizard of Oz in 1900, but the version that we know best comes from the iconic 1939 film. In this adaptation originally commissioned for the Royal Shakespeare Company the familiar story is preserved, yet perhaps there is a keener appreciation of the strength that women played in early twentieth century Kansas. There is the quietly organised and loving Aunt Em, the nasty overbearing Mrs Guitch as well as their alter egos the Good Witch of the North and the Wicked Witch of the West. But most of all there is Dorothy and the story ultimately stands or falls with her. .
This is quite a challenge with the distinct disadvantage in whoever plays the part is compared with the incomparable; Judy Garland. Not only does this production triumph in every way, but in Liyah Summers we have a Dorothy for our time. Her singing is like tinkling silver and she has a heart of gold. There is strong steel in there as well, and Summers not only captures Dorothy’s petulance, but her indignation and innocent outrage at the injustice meted out by the villains.
The story is shot through with great characters and Pedro Leandro as the Scarecrow absolutely nails it. His long limbed, floppy insouciance captures hearts immediately and his wonderfully clowning elegance convinces right from the moment he directs Dorothy in his cornfield right up until his graduation as Doctor of Thinking.
Cecilia Crossland gives good support as the Tinman while Alex Wilson makes the Cowardly Lion live again with some delightful pugilistic floating and skipping like a butterfly.
Bonnie Baddoo is a fantastically wide eyed and scary Wicked Witch and lights up the stage, or entrance stairs, every time she unexpectedly appears.
There are great parts for the chorus and the various talented actors handling multiple parts do so with professional aplomb as they cover the Munchkins, Crows, Winkie guards, wisecracking trees and frightful flying monkeys. Toto is played particularly well and with a mark of egalitarian charm by being manoeuvred in turn by members of the company. .
Directed by Peter Leslie Wild, the show is polished and audiences will be assured that this is a well-crafted and beautifully honed production with many lovely touches afforded by the simple but versatile set. Costumes, designed by Angela Davies are absolutely spot on and give a hint at Hollywood production values. The singing is pitch perfect throughout, as are the accents with credit to musical director, John Telfer and vocal coach Carol Fairlamb.
Grainne O’Mahoney gives a warm and comforting reassurance as Aunt Em and the Good Witch of the North while Felix Garcia Guyer provides a fabulous set of characters doubling as kindly and deep voiced Uncle Henry as well as a frivolous, hippy, Frank Zappaesque Emerald City Guard.
James Bradwell underplays Professor Marvel and the great Oz himself with a winning magical allure.
You will be hard pressed to find a better show this Christmas. Now we are all friends of Dorothy. ★★★★☆ Bryan Mason 2nd December 2017
The Wizard of Oz continues until 19th December.
Please note this performance is being sold through the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School Box Office; 0117 973 3955