The Wizard of Oz review at Crucible Theatre, Sheffield – ‘strange, beguiling and magical’
The maddeningly memorable, nursery rhyme-like refrain of We’re Off to See the Wizard is built on a lie. The Wizard of Oz ends up being exposed as a fraud, and Dorothy’s quest turns out to be a journey towards self-actualisation. She has to deal with and process her darkest fears after she runs away from her Kansas home when her pet dog Toto is threatened with confiscation by a curmudgeonly neighbour.
As familiar as the story is, and as engrained in the consciousness as Harold Arlen and EY Harburg’s irresistible songs are, it’s still a surprise how genuinely subversive this show is. Though on the surface it may feel like a traditional family musical, there are much darker strains within it about conquering our inner demons.
Director Robert Hastie, ending his first year at the helm of Sheffield Theatres, doesn’t stint on exposing these vulnerabilities beneath the apparent vivacity of his stage version of the 1939 MGM film classic.
Fresh-faced Gabrielle Brooks is a joy as Dorothy, following in the immortal screen footsteps of Judy Garland to make the role her own. Her rendition of Over the Rainbow is deeply felt and true.
There are also lovingly and hilariously etched performances from Jonathan Broadbent, Andrew Langtree and Max Parker as the motley crew of fantasy friends Dorothy picks up on the way: the scarecrow without a brain, the tin man without a heart and the lion who lacks courage. Each projects a sense of character and individuality far beyond their anthropomorphic costumes. Toto is cleverly embodied both by a real dog (in the Kansas sequences) and a puppet version (operated by Rhiannon Wallace) when they leave Kansas, amplifying the sense that this is a fantasy.
Hastie’s production is gorgeously designed by Janet Bird, the set a circular disc with under-lighting providing a yellow brick road, and a second disc rising out of the first to provide a backdrop for the Emerald City.
There are also some exhilarating big-band dance numbers, with Toby Higgins’ elevated onstage band providing orchestral heft while Ewan Jones’ playful and athletically propelled choreography creates lavish set pieces like a fantastic jitterbug ballet.