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.

Ooh-yor beauty: Loughborough is full of West End fairy-tale magic this panto season

The West End has come to the East Midlands this Christmas with a trio of stars from hit theatreland shows leading the cast of Loughborough’s end-of-year panto.

Victoria Lucie, Harry Polden and Jake Reynolds are bringing their acting pedigree to Leicestershire in Loughborough Town Hall’s laughter-packed production of Sleeping Beauty.

Written, directed, and designed by Morgan Brind, who won Best Dame at this year’s UK pantomime awards, the show offers a humorous twist on the traditional tale.

The sleeping beauty is portrayed by Victoria, who has previously appeared in the the world’s longest-running play, The Mousetrap, and is making her seventh professional pantomime to date.

Harry Polden, who is Mervin the Magician, has also been in multiple productions such as Oliver! (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane) and Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Adelphi Theatre.

Prince Vince, Princess Rose’s beau-to-be, is played by Jake Reynolds, fresh from playing Doody in Grease at London’s Dominion Theatre.

The new face amongst this starry cast is Zac Hanlon who plays Stewart the Stewart, who is making his professional acting debut in the show.

Simon Gibson, venue manager at Loughborough Town Hall, said: “We’re hugely excited to be welcoming such talented performers to be a part of Loughborough’s much-loved and critically acclaimed pantomime. What better way to say goodbye to 2022, than by spending time with family and friends enjoying all the thrills, spills, laughter and fun that pantomime provides.”

Little Wolf Entertainment is the production company behind the shows that carefully craft and design the pantomimes in the Town Hall and they have been doing this for eight years.

The venue also offers a relaxed performance of Sleeping Beauty on December 6, aimed at people with sensory difficulties, learning difficulties, and communication disorders.

For that performance, they’ll keep lights on and doors open, lessen the large noises, have no pyrotechnics and offer spaces for those who are uncomfortable during the show. There are also signed performances available.

Standard tickets start from £17.50, concession tickets from £16 and family tickets from £63.

Sleeping Beauty runs at loughboroughtownhall.co.uk until January 2. Book tickets online or call the box office on 01509 231914

We’re off to see the Wizard! The curtain’s up on Curve’s Christmas show

Director Nikolai Foster’s re-imagined technicolour wonderland of Oz is here – and a perfect excuse to gather your friends and family for this classic Christmas musical.

By Dwija Raval

Oz you like it: Paul French (Tin Man), Jonny Fines (Scarecrow), Giovanni Spanó (Lion), Georgina Onuorah (Dorothy) and Ben Thompson (Toto). Photograph by Marc Brenner

The Yellow Brick Road has wound its way to Rutland Street, Leicester, and Curve Theatre’s revival of the much-loved story of the Wizard of Oz is shaping up to be a colourful Christmas classic.

The homegrown production, which opened last month, stars Georgina Onuorah as Dorothy, with puppeteer Ben Thompson’s four-legged companion Toto joining her on a turbulent journey from Kansas to the wonderland of Oz, a world where nothing is quite as it seems.

The reviews so far have been overwhelmingly warm. The Daily Mail called it sumptuous. British Theatre.com hailed it as “stunning, a kaleidoscopic riot of sight and sound.” What’s on Stage said it is “a smart, aural and visual joy with wonderful heart and adventurous depictions.” The Stage said there’s “plenty of magic.” The Guardian called it a “fun, if rather cluttered, production.” The Times struck a sour note, saying it lacked a heart.

Jonny Fines, known for his work in Curve’s My Beautiful Laundrette, is cast for the role of Hunk and Scarecrow, Paul French (Curve’s Grease) as Hickory and Tin Man, while Mamma Mia’s Giovanni Spanó will take play Lion.

American actor, singer and impressionist Christina Bianco is playing Glinda, Geoffrey Aymer (Curve’s The Colour Purple) as Uncle Henry, Hamlet’s Jonathan Dryden Taylor as Munchkin Coroner, Jacqui Dubois (The Harder They Came, US Tour) as Aunt Em, Andrew Patrick-Walker as Munchkin Vicar, English singer Charlotte Jaconelli appear as Ms Gulch and The Wicked Witch of the West and Mark Peachey (The Lion King, UK tour) will be seen as Professor Marvel and The Wizard of Oz.

The cast ensemble includes Andrew Dillon (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), Martin McCarthy (Curve’s Grease), Dancer Ellie Mitchell (Cinderella), Natasha Mould (Grease, UK tour), Mervin Noronha (Greatest Days, Art is Dead), Amy Oxley (Shrek, UK tour), Christina Shand (Hairspray, UK tour), Tom Watson, Daisy West (Northern Ballet), and Charlotte St. Croix (Hairspray, UK tour).

It’s all been put together by the production manager Patrick Molony and re-imagined by Curve’s artistic director Nikolai Foster (Billy Elliot: The Musical, A Chorus Line, West Side Story).

The show is choreographed by Shay Barclay, known for her work in Cinderella (2021), Cats (2019), and Mary Poppins Returns (2018), and costumes of all characters and puppetry work are managed by costume and puppet designer Rachel Canning. Former president of the magic circle Scott Penrose brings alive magical moments on screen.

The magical setting of the story is created at the Curve by the set designer Colin Richmond, lighting director Ben Cracknell, projection designer Douglas O’Connell, and props supervisor Marcus Hall Props.

E.Y Harburg and Harold Arlon’s original songs like ‘the Yellow Brick Road’, ‘We’re off to see the Wizard’ and ‘Over the Rainbow’ from the MGM film are featured with additional music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. 

Guess we’re not in Kansas anymore: the cast of The Wizard of Oz. Photograph by Marc Brenner

The Wizard of Oz runs at Curve until January 8. Tickets are available online at https://www.curveonline.co.uk/whats-on/shows/the-wizard-of-oz/

Discounted tickets are £15 for under-16s/under-18s school groups, £20 for students/16-25 year-olds, and are 15% off for members. There is more information available on discounts and support on their website. The company has also organised access-friendly performances including British Sign Language interpreted, captioned, audio-described, dementia friendly and relaxed. 

Cinderella brings the magic to Leicester this Christmas (with a little help from AJ and Curtis Pritchard)

By Safiyyah Choudry

The cast of Cinderella at De Montfort Hall, Leicester

Grab your glass slippers and arrange the carriage because Imagine Theatre is bringing the spectacular Christmas pantomime of Cinderella to Leicester.

One of the UK’s leading pantomime producers will be transforming Leicester’s De Montfort Hall into an enchanted realm this winter for a festive extravaganza.

Running from December 10 to January 2, the family favourite will feature an array of sets, costumes and special effects.

The performance will involve a great deal of singing, dancing and laughing, all of the magic ingredients needed for Leicester’s show of the season! It will entail heaps of slap-stick comedy, audience participation and fun for the whole family.

It will star the dancing duo and good guys of reality television, AJ and Curtis Pritchard, as Prince Charming and Dandini the matchmaker.

CBeebies presenter Evie Pickerill will dazzle audiences with her debut as the leading lady, Cinderella. Jarred Christmas will bring the festivities back to De Montfort Hall for a second year to play Buttons. West End star Madison Swan will ensure her princess protégé is set for the ball in her role as the fairy godmother.

Tickets will start from £15.25, and audiences can enhance their experience with additional extras. These include an evening with AJ and Curtis for £40 and meet-and-greets for £45.

There will also be accessible tickets on sale, with relaxed and signed performances for those with disabilities.

Cinderella runs at De Montfort Hall, Leicester from December 10 to January 2 (excluding December 19, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day). For more information and tickets, visit: https://www.demontforthall.co.uk/event/cinderella/

‘A real pinch-me moment’: Leicester actor Daniel Cornish returns to his roots at Curve on a National Theatre tour

Practice makes perfect: Domonic Ramsden, Ronnie Lee, Daniel Cornish, Paolo Guidi in rehearsals for The Ocean at the End of the Lane. ⒸCameron Slater

Talented Leicester actor Daniel Cornish is set to return to Curve for the National Theatre’s critically acclaimed production of The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Daniel is no stranger to Curve. In 2012 he starred in the production of ‘The King and I’ and regularly performed in several of the theatre’s productions before training at the Guildford School of Acting.

He said: “I think it’s safe to say Curve has a special place in my heart and being able to perform on that stage again, as an adult, with the National Theatre, is a real pinch-me moment.”

Daniel has performed in productions such as A Certain Term at White Bea; The Good Scout for Above the Stag; The Little Prince at Vienna’s English Theatre; and Maggie and Ted at the Garrick Theatre.

“I am super excited to be back in Leicester for two weeks and to be able to see my family and friends, but most importantly it means I get to stay at my nan’s,” said Daniel.

Adapted by Joel Horwood and directed by Katy Rudd, the imagination of Neil Gaiman, the best-selling author of Coraline and The Sandman, is brought to the stage and explores his magical world of fantasy and thrills.

The show follows a man as he returns to his childhood home, where he finds himself standing beside the pond of the old Sussex farmhouse where he used to play. 

The audience is then transported to his 12th birthday where his remarkable friend Lettie claimed it wasn’t a pond, but an ocean – a place where everything is possible…

Plunged into an extraordinary world, their survival depends on their ability to reckon with ancient forces that threaten to destroy everything around them.

Daniel said: “Expect to see the best of storytelling on stage, with puppetry, movement, illusions and much more. Expect to laugh, expect to cry, and expect to leave uplifted by a truly heart-warming story” 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane first premiered in the Dorfman Theatre in 2019, followed by a hugely successful and celebrated six-month stint at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London’s West End in 2021.

Daniel said: “The success of the show so far speaks volumes about what a gem of a story this is..

In the production, Daniel plays the role of ‘Alternate Boy’ which is shared with the “wonderful” Keir Ogilvy who plays ‘Boy’.

He said: “We have been able to discover this character together. We’ve been able to bring our own experiences and opinions into the space and offered the opportunity to bounce off each other’s energy.”

He adds that playing the role of a character that has a genuine intrigue for life, a desire to learn and a wild imagination “has been lovely to access as we often lose that child-like intrigue, and drive to play as we grow up.”

Daniel is joined on tour by EastEnders star and I’m a Celebrity 2012 winner, Charlie Brooks (Ursula), Jasmeen James (understudy) Trevor Fox (Dad), Emma-Jane Goodwin (understudy), Paolo Guidi (ensemble), Millie Hikasa (Lettie Hempstock), Lewis Howard (understudy), Kemi-Bo Jacobs (Ginnie Hempstock), Ronnie Lee (ensemble), Aimee McGoldrick (ensemble), Laurie Ogden (Sis), Keir Ogilvy (Boy), Domonic Ramsden (ensemble), Joe Rawlinson-Hunt (understudy), Risha Silvera (understudy) and Finty Williams (Old Mrs Hempstock).

The current production is the National Theatre’s largest tour since before the Covid-19 pandemic. The adaptation is set to travel around 29 major towns and cities across the UK and Ireland.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is at Leicester’s Curve Theatre from January 31 until February 11, for tickets see https://www.curveonline.co.uk/whats-on/shows/the-ocean-at-the-end-of-the-lane/