Express & Star

There's no place like the Hippodrome! The Wizard of Oz theatre show shines in Birmingham

The London Palladium's The Wizard of Oz production is worth every penny - and now it's at the Hippodrome.

Photo: Birmingham Hippodrome

Taking on the responsibility of doing justice to a story loved by millions is a brave move, but one that was executed with near-perfection by director Nikolai Foster.

We know the story, but we'll never tire of new life being breathed into the 1939 classic starring Judy Garland, which we all - at some point or another - have sat down to watch on the big screen.

Theatre is a totally different experience, one that usually stays with you as a memory far longer, and I'm pleased to report that this memory could not have reached a greater height.

Everyone should go and see this show, and theatre fans across the region can do just that this weekend.

Photo: Birmingham Hippodrome

The Wizard of Oz lays out the story of Dorothy, played by Aviva Tulley - who for me stole the show - as she's swept away from her home in Kansas to the unpredictable, yet magical world of Oz - who she has to hunt down to find her way back home.

And as we know, while there she meets some pretty unique and unforgettable pals to see her complete her quest. The Scarecrow, played by Benjamin Yates, the Tin Man, played by JLS star Aston Merrygold, and the Lion, played by Nic Greenshields, as he desperately tries to find his courage.

Not forgetting their adversary, the Wicked Witch of the West, played by Craig Revel Horwood, and Dorothy's trusty dog Todo, played by Abigail Mathews - who deserves infinite praise for her uniquely skilled performance.

The tone is set early by Aviva, who really took ownership of those famous songs. Her rendition of Over The Rainbow was incredible, and that's not to say every other song wasn't just as good, her solo songs were just - for me - the most memorable parts of the show.

But it wasn't just her singing that shone, everything from the way she walked, to the tone of her voice screamed Dorothy. You know you're watching talent when you only see them as the character they're playing.

Photo: Birmingham Hippodrome

Belly laughs started early on when Benjamin's Scarecrow stepped on the stage, he soon took the spotlight with the way he captured the silly and loveable straw-filled character. His timing was first class and every piece of dialogue hit just when the story needed it. A laugh came when he decided it to be so.

Soon came the Tin Man, I never knew Aston had such a powerful singing voice and the way he played the robotic role - using his dancing qualities - was a huge hit with the audience, but you could immediately see why he wasn't cast just for that.

There is a scene with some oil which, for ticket-holders, I won't spoil, but I can't stress enough how much it made me laugh and it showed everyone how multi-talented the dance-floor ace really is.

This was followed by the loveable, and soon-to-be bravest lion in theatre, which Nic did a brilliant job with.

He opens with the famous 'put 'em up' line and - because of the way he delivered it - got the biggest laugh of the night.

He was similar to Aviva in that he was the Lion, from the moment he started to the final bow I only saw the character and I don' think there's a better way to compliment a performance other than that.

Craig Revel Horwood did the Wicked Witch proud, he was scary, funny, mischievous and somewhat seductive in the way he was received by the audience. He's the bad guy, the one that's stopping the hero's get the happy ending and we're not supposed to like him.

But much like the Scarecrow he brought most of the laughs, not that we expected anything less from the Strictly Come Dancing judge, which he paid homage to in one piece of dialogue.

The extremely talented Abigail Mathews operated Toto - a puppet - the dog, it's the first time I had seen this in theatre and it's not until after it's over you realise how much skill it must take. The movements of the puppet were lifelike and Abigail took on a really physical role. It's the same as I've said previously, you know you're watching talent when you only see them as the character they're playing.

The cast, of course, are just one part of a show - especially in theatre - and it would be unjustly to speak such volumes of them without mentioning the broader production.

It's a real show, initially I went for the nostalgia because that would have been enough but I left with a brand new experience, a unique one, and that's thanks to everyone involved. If any part of the production didn't show up on the night then the whole thing would have flopped, but A-games were brought and professionalism delivered.

Photo: Birmingham Hippodrome

One of the biggest takeaways I got - although eventually I settled on Aviva - was how every character got better as the show went on.

At the time I was racking my mind on how to choose who I thought stole it because every time a new character came on they became my favourite performance.

And I think that sums up the show, there is no best character, just an enhancement to the whole night every time we met a new one all working in ensemble to give the audience a short holiday away from the day-to-day.

That's how you put on a proper show and that's exactly what it was, a proper show.

The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz at Birmingham Hippodrome from Tuesday 11 – Sunday 16 June 2024 and select dates across the tour.

The new musical, based on the iconic story by L. Frank Baum, tours the UK and Ireland throughout 2024, following a celebrated run at the world-famous London Palladium.

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.