Review: Wizard of Oz, Bacon Theatre, Cheltenham

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: July 11, 2014
By Simon Lewis

Choreographer: Heather M Newman
Musical Director: David Manifold

Somewhere, over the rainbow, way out west...OK, The Bacon Theatre on Hatherley Road, there’s a show that I heard of once, when I was very young (and more than a few times since).

It’s taken me nearly 50 years to see a stage performance of this classic, but all things come to those who wait, the wisdom of which was amply demonstrated by John Pannett’s thoroughly entertaining presentation that again demonstrates the remarkable depths of talent within Promenade Productions’ multi-generational ranks.

Bristling with those immortal songs, the greenest show in Cheltenham is a right old ding-dong, a blaze of colour, glitz and glamour, reflected especially in the sparkling Emerald City set and the exquisitely costumed Munchkinland sequence, populated by a legion of well-drilled and clear-spoken children, especially Callum Prosser as the authoritative mayor.

There is plenty more to savour. As soon as she started singing, the supremely capable Lauren Poulson looked and sounded perfect as the exuberant heroine Dorothy, effectively a blond Judy Garland, and from then on all the leading characters were on top form.


 




James Russell
excelled as the Tin Woodman, Michael Fay ran the full gamut of emotions as the engagingly timid lion, and if ever someone was custom-built for a role, it is stalwart Jack Overington who was magnificently manic as the unstable scarecrow.

Standing motionless for nigh on 20 minutes takes some doing, too.

It’s all very pantomimish; there’s a fairy godmother-cum-sorceress permanently on call, the sinister witches ensure a decent side-order of villainy, even if the choreography for Saint-Saëns’ thrilling Danse Macabre was a shade flat, likewise the ending which arrived rather suddenly and lost some of its impact.

The curtain call could also do with some tidying up. But these are minor considerations. The whole is still greater than the sum of its parts, and a final, deserved mention for Ella Hiscock as the witches’ drole, downtrodden servant Tibia, maundering about her mistresses’ grim castle like Toyah Willcox with a hangover.

The first encounter with the wizard is visually impressive, likewise the cyclone that kills off the Wicked Witch of the East, and when even a real hailstorm breaks, you begin to believe all things are indeed possible.

Supporting it all is the disciplined orchestra, once again under the expert control of David Manifold. A night of midsummer magic, so dare to dream, for they will come true for anyone following the yellow brick road to theatrical splendour.