Review – The Wizard of Oz – Royal Hippodrome, Eastbourne

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Leaning much more toward the pantomime version, rather than the original MGM film, APL Theatre’s adaptation of L.Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz is a joyous romp through the tale with a well written script together with original music, and some, very cleverly used, classic numbers as well.

John Denver’s Number 1 hit, Thank God I’m a Country Boy, is the first of those classics that we hear, sung by the farmhands Hunk, Zeke and Hickory together with Uncle Henry (Thomas Hewitt) just before they start preparations for the impending tornado.

After a run in with Miss Gulch, who wishes to remove the (seriously cute) puppet version of Toto and have him destroyed, Dorothy (Jen Pringle) gets to sing her first big number for which, without the usual Over the Rainbow available to him, Director Paul Leno decides to use Cindi Lauper’s True Colours which Dorothy performs as a beautiful duet with Auntie Em.

After the tornado Dorothy, sadly minus her faithful puppet companion, arrives in the wonderfully colourful Land of Oz where her, now upside-down, house has squashed and killed the Wicked Witch of the East. Rachel Cantrill, as the familiar green Wicked Witch of the West, is obviously loving her chance to get the audience mood against her, with insults flying left, right and centre at the children, their parents and even their grandparents!

On her way to see the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy meets her three companions. Firstly the Scarecrow, played for every laugh he can get by Jake Watkins, joins Dorothy and they are soon joined by The Tin Man (Matt Morris) who, with more tremendous musical choices, follows Scarecrow’s version of I’m Still Standing with a belting performance of Titanium by David Guetta and Sia.

The Cowardly Lion (Charlie Bowyer) is the last of the gang to arrive and, after another run-in with The Wicked Witch which results in an auditorium covered in snow, they finally arrive at the Emerald City. The Gatekeeper, who bears more than a passing resemblence to Uncle Henry, and to the Wizard himself, is played brilliantly by Thomas Hewitt. His interactions with the audience, and cleverly written one-liners, really suit his character and are given a tremendous reception by the audience.

Throughout the performance evil is thwarted by the magic of Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Madelaine Nicole Jennings is full of sugary sweet niceness, and gets plenty of opportunities to show off her crystal clear singing voice, in this role. Her huge jewelled wand and over-the-top glittery costume really fit well with the festive timing of the show.

All seven members of the cast work really hard in this show to ensure that the audience get all the enjoyment that they can. The classic hits, like Ease on Down the Road from The Wiz and Earth, Wind and Fire’s September (cleverly rewritten to replace Follow the Yellow Brick Road) are performed really well, the script is both topical and funny and the whole production has a palpable air of fun about it.

To see how the traditional story of Dorothy and her friends can be successfully interpreted by just seven tremendously talented people, pop down to the Royal Hippodrome Theatre and close 2017 with a smile on your face.

****                  Four Stars

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About Author

I have lived in Sussex for the past 15 years and have links with many of the arts venues throughout the county. I am passionate about the local arts scene and, as well as providing reviews of local performances, I also preview some of the exciting shows and events taking place around the county. I have devoted all of my working life to the worlds of theatre and travel so, when I am not on holiday somewhere, you can usually find me at one of our superb local theatres, or simply enjoying life with my young son.

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