Review: The Wizard of Oz at Curve, Leicester. ‘Over the Rainbow, and above my expectations’

By John Perry

The Wizard of Oz has seen many iterations since its conception into a novel by L. Frank Baum, most notably the 1939 Hollywood classic starring the late Judy Garland. Moving forward the best part of a century, Andrew Lloyd Webber redefined the classic into a stage production in 2011. Now in 2022, Curve Theatre has once again redefined what The Wizard of Oz is with their contemporary take on the tale involving deviations in characters and story to create an important version involving environmentalism.

Stepping into the Curve is an experience of its own, a modern building near the heart of Leicester, but I was still not expecting the sheer scale of production, talent, and technological achievement once I took my seat to view this fantastical performance.

The Wizard of Oz creative director Nikolai Foster brought his vision to the Curve theatre and it’s simply breathtaking. Inspired by Route 66 and the American dream, this is a new rendition of a classic that is a must-see. We all are aware of Dorothy’s adventure through Oz, her meeting characters representing her family, friends and learning to understand the importance of home through a magical experience. Here, we still get that core story but with modern twists, comedy, and heart.

You are not merely transported there; you are part of Oz for the next two hours.

The boldest surprise to me was that in the blink of an eye, set pieces meld into the stage with brilliant light shows and 3D effects. Flashes of light, dazzling special effects and environments on stage evolving. You are not pulled into the world; you are immersed into it. You are not merely transported there; you are part of Oz and Dorothy’s adventure for the next two hours.

The cast of the Wizard of Oz at Curve, Leicester. Photograph by Marc Brenner

The acting and vocal talent of the entire cast is brilliant but particularly in Dorothy (Georgina Onuorah), Scarecrow (Jonny Fines) and Glinda (Christina Bianco), phenomenal voices reverberate around the theatre space. They truly know how to pick artists here; the production team is a character of their own too. As is the band hidden beneath the stage – a live orchestra that many wouldn’t even believe was there. To the naked eye it’s simply a musical track playing unless you have the opportunity during the interval or a lucky seat at the front to peer below the stage into a pit of experienced musicians bringing Oz to life.

West End quality without the need for a trip to London is how best to describe it what is witnessed here. It features genuinely funny moments. Hearing a cast member saying “I’m a friend of Dorothy” – we all know the connotations – made the adults erupt in laughter, while Scarecrow simply leaping, falling, and rolling around the set during his introduction had the kids giggling like a pack of hyenas. An addition I did not expect was a puppet version of Toto that was handled entirely by a single crew member on stage, practical to avoid a real dog.

Aesthetically, it deviates heavily from the original to be in line more with its environmentalist take and contemporary vision, which includes Munchkin land being an industrial and dilapidated town, Emerald City representing a New York landscape and the witches of Oz riding motorcycles instead of brooms. It could have done more in terms of altering the narrative to fit this, but I expect it was a creative choice to stay truer to the original in its script.

Ben Thompson (Toto) and Georgina Onuorah (Dorothy). Photograph by Marc Brenner
Charlotte Jaconelli (The Wicked Witch of the West). Photograph by Marc Brenner

As the second half began it truly showcased more of the time and money that went into this daring new take on the classic. The production value and realism they went for was breathtaking: Emerald City having small Easter eggs on the large LED screen at the back, parodies of McDonald’s, Starbucks and even a nod to Garland herself in a Times Square-like billboard. The little things were not ignored.

The pinnacle of the entire performance must be Onuorah’s rendition of Over the Rainbow as Dorothy. A bright, positive, and soulful take on the theme to the original movie. It gave us goosebumps, and earned a standing ovation from many of the audience.

It’s for everyone. A modern take on a classical tale. A fantastic musical, with amazing vocal talent, technical expertise, music that just engulfs the audience in the moment. It was also wholesome to see a sign language interpreter present on stage for accessibility of disabled audience members. Inclusivity is important to Curve.

This production is incredible. After a pandemic delay, to find its feet like this and still be a powerhouse of entertainment. It is special. A true five-star experience and a must see for all the family this Christmas. It certainly went over the rainbow and above my expectations.

The Wizard of Oz runs at the Curve Theatre in Leicester until January 8.