Reviewer Jo Grady followed the yellow brick road to a wonderful, technicoloured evening in Oz… 

This show was always going to be special to every person in the theatre that grew up with The Wizard of Oz: who was mesmerized by Dorothy’s shoes, ran scared from the Wicked Witch of the West, and was traumatised for life by Flying Monkeys (that's me included). From the animated curtain signalling the start of the show to through to the grand finale, we were taken back in time to a spirit of togetherness and triumph over evil. 

Great British Life: We're not in Kansas anymore...We're not in Kansas anymore... (Image: Marc Brenner)

The story is an omnipresent and much-loved part of life, weaved into everyday with phrases we all use, such as ‘we’re not in Kansas anymore’ and ‘there’s no place like home’ - delivered with a click of the heel, if you’re really channelling Dorothy – as likely to be heard from a ten-year-old as a pensioner and both were present in the audience for this generation-uniting family show. 

The obvious draw of Jason Manford as The Cowardly Lion and Zeke; Aston Merrygold as The Tin Man and Hickory; Allan Stewart as Professor Marvel and The Wizard; and the fabulous The Vivienne as Ms. Gulch and The Wicked Witch of the West, meant the theatre was full, and the lead actors played their parts with gusto, skill, warmth, and comedy.  

Great British Life: The fabulous The Vivienne played Ms. Gulch and The Wicked Witch of the WestThe fabulous The Vivienne played Ms. Gulch and The Wicked Witch of the West (Image: Marc Brenner)

Benjamin Yates, who played The Scarecrow and Hunk, managed to steal the show at many points, with his deft delivery of lines and his comedic approach, and Emily Bull gave us a scene-stealing Penelope Pipstock-inspired Glinda as well as Aunt Em. 

The star of the show, though, was Aviva Tullet as Dorothy, who was incredible as she stunned with her wonderful, crystal-clear voice. Abigail Matthews, who played Toto, managed to bring a puppet of the dog to life in such a convincing way throughout the entire performance she blended into the background beautifully, leaving Toto to do the talking. 

Bringing such a well-known and adored story to the stage could have given anyone the wobbles, but the set design team, led by Colin Richmond, pulled it off. The yellow brick road was a stroke of genius, seamlessly transporting Dorothy and her pals across Oz to the Wizard with a flurry of yellow lights and precision handling. 

Great British Life: Aston Merrygold plays The Tin ManAston Merrygold plays The Tin Man (Image: Marc Brenner)

I must also give a special shout out to the ensemble who managed to work wonders as the characters we know and love, from Munchkins to the wonderfully executed crows, the scary flying monkeys, the witch’s dapper army, and the residents of the Emerald City. I have to say the choice of colours of the costumes was fantastic, mirroring the technicolour of the original film, with the sepia tones of the opening scenes delivered with effect through the clever use of a screen. 

Of course, when it comes to the songs, the firm favourites were in place with Over the Rainbow, Ding Dong the Witch is Dead, Yellow Brick Road, and Off to see the Wizard peppered with newer numbers created specifically for the show, and the crowd was fully on its feet for the finale. 

This production was stylish and timed to perfection, and in the words of Dorothy herself, ‘there’s no place like home’, and this performance truly felt like coming home. 

The Wizard of Oz plays at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Sunday 5 May 2024