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.

Two Leicester professors are having their book published after almost a decade of hard work

By Katie McKenna

Waiting for print day: Paul Smith in his office, having completed his book.

After almost a decade of hard work, a De Montfort University professor finally has his book on the verge of being published.

Dr Paul Smith, a 48-year-old associate professor working at De Montfort University, is finally on the verge of having his media textbook published following several years of continuous work.

The book was co-authored by Dr Vincent Campbell of the University of Leicester.

“I suppose in a sense it was like a collaboration between DMU and the University of Leicester,” Dr Smith said.

“The idea came to us in a car ride about 7 or 8 years ago. We were complaining about how the textbooks back then were so old-fashioned – refusing to acknowledge recent media developments and choosing to focus on the old media instead.”

The theme of the soon-to-be-published book is how the rise of the internet has changed the shape of media – giving special attention to every major media industry.

‘We had the idea on the back-burner and worked casually on it for years – up until our publisher started to ask where the book was!

“I put a lot of work into it during the summer this year.

“I have two boys – 12 and 15. I wish I could’ve been able to spend more time with them.

“We had a family holiday planned two weeks before the deadline and we still had one more chapter to finish. My wife insisted that I wasn’t allowed to work on holiday!”

Finally, work on the book was finished and the deadline was met.

When asked about his goals with the book, Dr Smith said: “Partly, we wanted to create a book that asked interesting questions about the current state of media. But we also wanted it to be a valuable resource for all students, even if many don’t even have the opportunity to read it.”

He is already moving onto his next project, focusing on his other passion – sports media.

The British Media Industry – An Introduction is set to be released in early 2023.

TV Priest live at Firebug, Leicester: a raw, orchestral post-punk trip

Review by Shaikha Rahimi

Gone are the days where rock gigs are only about hair whipping and top-of-the-lungs screaming. From chest patting to the lyrics to swinging the microphone stand across the stage, Charlie Drinkwater draws a line between the audience and the band through emotion. And, above all, by being quintessentially TV Priest.

TV Priest’s debut album showcased who they are as a band as well as their versatility, and their second album hammered down their sound. Uppers was an unapologetic political statement and the predeceasing album seems to have traces of that, too. The earsplitting guitars and drums combined with Drinkwater’s vulnerable and honest lyricism created juxtaposition like no other.

Drinkwater, whose artistry is not limited to music, was profoundly immersed in the lyricism throughout the show. He did not stop at satisfying the audience’s ears; he brought the visuals into it. His stage presence is theatrical in a sense, and he almost innately feels the urge to act out his lyrics. “Life only comes in flashes of greatness,” he exclaimed, with his hands over his head. 

TV Priest on stage at Firebug. Image by Shaikha Rahimi.

One Easy Thing, one of TV Priest’s most known tracks, had to make it to the setlist, and the band’s ability to immerse the audience into the lyricism shone through once again as Drinkwater said: “And when you used to laugh, rooms used to open for you .. like a mother weeping.” 

He does it once again as he repeatedly patted his chest while building up the crescendo: “I need to sleep, so very, very deeply. But I am on the call, and I am waiting.” This moment was the highlight of the night. TV Priest put on a show that is well-rounded and strikes a balance between theatrical elements and rock music. I would not have been surprised to see curtains closing the show. 

With the size of Firebug’s venue in mind, it already felt like an intimate gig. But Drinkwater took the artist-fan interaction up a notch by sitting at the edge of the stage during Limehouse Cut, one of the many profound moments during the show. Contrary to the studio version of the track where Drinkwater’s vocals are low-pitched and sonorous, he howled and quavered: “Won’t you follow, follow me?” into the crowd without a microphone. Drinkwater is certainly au fait with sustaining fan interactions. “You can find us around our merch stall after the show selling T-shirts to pay for petrol,” he said mid-show. It seems transparency is not limited to his lyricism.

For the audience, this is a rollercoaster with consistent highs and no lows. It encapsulates meaningful lyricism, with zestful stage presence, and timeless sound. Drinkwater’s commitment to the vulnerability of his lyricism carried the audience through a plethora of emotions. He was clearly submerged in the guitar, bass, and drums. You could just see it in his face, and you cannot help but surrender to the intensity of their marvellous crescendos. Nothing held TV Priest back. This show was incised with energy, sensational vocals, and unparalleled stage presence.

The support act were London-based alternative-rock band Modern Woman. Their music is hard to label and is mysterious in its intent: post-folk-meets-art-rock. The layered instrumental excellence of the violin – yes, a violin – and the electric guitar with the rhythmic cymbals created a goosebump-inducing sound.

But it was TV Priest’s night: a show that felt like a raw, orchestral post-punk trip that gave the audience a thrilling adventure that was all about screeching guitars, pounding drums, and authenticity.

TV Priest’s current European tour takes in France, Belgium and Switzerland and concludes in Köln, Germany on Friday, November 25. Buy tickets at https://www.tvpriest.com.

Restaurant review: ORSO Leicester… does it live up to the hype?

During Leicester Restaurant Week, Ana Goncalves pays a visit to ORSO Leicester to see if the place lives up to the hype after tirelessly hearing numerous recommendations.

[Read more…]

Review: Easy Life at Morningside Arena, Leicester

Easy does it

by Abi Willock

“This is the biggest tour we’ve ever been on!” says Easy Life’s frontman Murray Matravers, beaming out at the crowd at Leicester’s Morningside Arena on Friday night.

The humble band are clearly ecstatic to be home, bounding around the stage. They’re also proud to be back. “Leicester is the best city,” says Matravers. 

From gaining the hottest record title with their single ‘Earth’ on Annie Mac’s Radio 1 show, to being nominated for three NME awards, Easy Life have rocketed in recent months.

This exceptional gig –  part of their ‘Life’s a Beach’ debut album tour – shows exactly why they have become so popular. Fans know how crystal clear their studio sound is, and their live performance proves to be just as striking. 

Matravers’ distinctive voice lends itself to his ever-poetic lyrics and the talent of Sam Hewitt is especially commendable as he switches seamlessly from playing keyboard to bass to the saxophone and sings backing vocals in between.   

Crowd participation adds to the vibrant atmosphere as Matravers surfs the uplifting hands of fans and shouted that he wanted to see “more people up on people’s shoulders” during Skeletons, a number that Easy Life performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in the US earlier this year. 

Slow Motion also creates a roar from the crowd as everyone puts their hands together and sparkling pyrotechnics light up the arena. Coming down on the rollercoaster of a show, the audience find themselves entranced by the beautiful opening notes of Temporary Love Part 2 as a sea of singing voices swayed along to the uplifting tune.  

Easy Life wow Leicester and are sure to do the same to cities nationwide on the rest of their album tour. Their homecoming show is a night to remember.

View from the crowd

“It’s hard to pick a favourite part of the night… every song was just fantastic,” says George Barrs, a fan of the band since they released their first single, Pockets. “I looked up at them on stage and realised, they’re just a bunch of guys from Leicester living their dream.”  

Elliott Luxton, who first discovered Easy Life when they were interviewed on BBC Radio Leicester in 2019, says: “They sound no different live, especially with their song Lifeboat. You couldn’t tell they weren’t in a studio. They’re almost better live.”