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East of England
posted/updated: 29 Nov 2018 - edit review / upload photos
The Wizard of Oz
L. Frank Baum
society/company: Little Theatre Company (directory)
performance date: 28 Nov 2018
venue: Palace Theatre, Southend-on-Sea
reviewer/s: Jacquee Storozynski-Toll (Sardines review)

The Wizard of Oz has been a firm favourite from its first inception as a film based on L. Frank Baum’s book eighty years ago. There have been various stage versions including the one by Lloyd Webber, but the Little Theatre Company’s production is as close to the original MGM film as it could be, especially with the limitations of the stage.

The show has many well known songs such as The Witch is Dead, We’re Off to See the Wizard and If I Only Had a Heart etc. Laura Harper beautifully sings the opening number of Somewhere Over the Rainbow as Dorothy, accompanied by a scene-stealing dog playing Toto.

The famous trio of the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly lion are extremely well played by Dave Gardner, Kilian McIntosh and Julian Cottee with the appropriate make-up and outfits that one would have believed they were the originals from the film. They energetically bounce around the stage, with even the Tin Man moving as much as he can in his silver suit.

The production has a minimalist set with scenery that is manually pushed onto the stage, leading to scene changes being a little slow, but this will become slicker as the week goes on. However, director Tim Cater should be complimented in adding some innovative touches. The storm and tornado comes via a 3D projection that is almost Virtual Reality, and there is a most dramatic Wizard who gives a whole new meaning to ‘big headed.’ Another clever effect is the dissolving Wicked Witch of the East (Lianne Larthe), who appears to be having a wonderful time cackling dementedly.

I also like the magical wood where ladies in long evening dresses, wearing branches and apples on their heads, glide around the stage like beauties from a Busby Berkeley musical.

Another very effective scene is the luminescent Jitterbugs dancing in the dark and there is even some flying. The audience are really enjoying it adding a spontanious round of applause for the creativity and special effects.

As there aren’t many little people around the local area, apart from a few children, so adults play the Munchkins with shoes on their knees. I am not sure this works as it does somewhat limit mobility, but probably using more children would have meant licensing problems.

Although this show is really for children, the audience (mainly consisted of adults incidently) are really enjoying it. It is a traditional family show to liven a dark and wet evening. It's bright, energetic and has a feel-good factor with some strong ensemble performances.  Director, Tim Cater, has taken timeout to chat about his ideas for the show and his enthusiasm and passion has paid off... as audience figures for the week prove. If you want to see this show you should buy your tickets now as it looks to be a sell-out.

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