Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Wizard Of Oz Assembly Hall Tunbridge Wells

The Wizard Of Oz
 Assembly Hall
 Royal Tunbridge Wells

21-23 April 2011


Scarecrow - Bobby Davro
Glinda - Sarah-Jane Honeywell
Dorothy - Stephanie Fearon
Tinman - Ben Hanson
Lion - Jimmy Burton Iles
Wizard Of Oz - Robert Forknall
Wicked Witch Of The West - Kate Richards
Squeaker - Danny Mills

Dancers - Jane Tullett, Jessica Pease, Lauryn Campbell, Bruno da Silva, Conan Anton Nicholas, Sam Patrick

Performance seen 21st April

I honestly don't know where to start with this 'musical'. I find it very difficult reviewing a show that is so radically different than what is expected or advertised.

The Wizard Of Oz is one of the few musicals I hadn't seen (only on the TV) but I was really looking forward to seeing accomplished singer and  'Over the Rainbow' semi finalist Steph Fearon portraying Dorothy and singing all the traditional Oz songs especially "Somewhere Over The Rainbow".

It is therefore a crying shame that you get to see and hear absolutely none (yes zero) of the Wizard Of Oz songs performed because this is anything but The Wizard Of Oz.

Apparently for reasons of copyright and because Lloyd-Webber's Oz is currently in the West End they cannot perform any Oz tracks - not one. I don't quite 'get this' myself because Over The Rainbow is sung in numerous touring shows (for example regularly in Forever in Blue Jeans) so either they are all breaching copyright or this can't be the true reason.

'An Original Production' the official leaflet says. And this is where the problem lies with this show. It is with the deceit that has gone into the marketing of the production.

The programme states "The Wizard Of Oz - One of  the best loved stories ever told".

It's such a shame this isn't it.

So what is it?

Well if those behind the publicity for this production had been honest rather than deceitful a better description would have been "The Wizard Of Oz - A panto style take on an old time musical classic. Featuring your favourite characters, your favourite pop songs, slapstick comedy. A show that the kids will love and keep parents chuckling."

There being honest wouldn't have been that difficult would it? 

The trouble is this marketing and the show's 'surprising' content has led to so many complaints that it was all too late to do anything about it. But the number of people, particularly those without kids, who were saying "This isn't the Wizard Of Oz", "Harry Hill wasn't in Oz" or "This is awful" was unbelievable. Facts echoed by the number of empty seats which appeared after the interval.

Bobby Davro is still a very funny entertaining guy, there is no doubting that. He is hilarious in this show too but it doesn't fix the fact that most of us were sitting watching something totally different than we had anticipated.

Yes the Oz characters are all there and amongst the impressions of Harry Hill , Bruce Forsythe, Ozzy Osbourne and fighting bacon and eggs (no I'm not joking) there is a vague following of a story following the Yellow Brick Road. 

OK for a moment let's forget the fact this is not the show we expected and judge the cast.

Well that's the funniest part they are all excellent which is a great shame because you are always watching this farce thinking "I didn't book to see this".

Bobby Davro is at his funniest. In fact he's taken a bit of flack in the national press for some of the innuendo and tongue-in-cheek content. To be fair to him though, unless the show has been altered, whilst there are a few sexual connotations there's nothing offensive and that you wouldn't expect in a modern panto (I know this isn't one).

Steph Fearon has a beautiful voice but I didn't go to see her sing the latest pop hits that, for me at least, was particularly disappointing.

Cbeebies kids favourite Sarah-Jane Honeywell is a cute, bubbly, roller blading Glinda and is sweet, somewhat scatty and funny in the role.

Kate Richards is the best Wicked Witch of the West you could imagine and I can easily see her performing in Wicked in the West End. She looked incredible and sounded wonderful.

I can't fault the rest of the cast either.

For the panto-esque production this is it is actually a very good, very funny piece of family entertainment. In fact in the second half whilst Davro was riding his Kangaroo (no I don't remember this sport in Oz either) I spent a long time looking around at the kids in the auditorium. They were having a whale of a time. It equalled the kiddie hysteria that any decent pantomime can muster.

If it had been advertised with complete honesty as a pantomime style Easter production with none of the original tracks from Oz chances are we would have still gone for the laugh and come away feeling we had seen what we booked for.

But it wasn't and like somebody else muttered on the way out of the auditorium "What the heck was that?..... it certainly wasn't Oz" is the feeling you are left with.

Rating? How do you rate something you didn't expect to see?

Well if you were expecting nothing but an authentic Wizard of Oz experience and would settle for nothing less 2/5 would be reasonable, perhaps even generous. 

If, like us, you thought you were seeing Oz but had a few unexpected laughs from 'The Bobby Davro and Friends' show then 3/5. If it had been marketed honestly it would probably be a 4/5 for good comedy mayhem.

For kids aged up to 12 and their parents (glad that something has kept them fully entertained for a while) who may have got an even better reaction from their kids compared the traditional musical it would probably be a 5/5

I don't feel it's right to totally trash a production, as most reviewers have done, without taking in to account that a vast number of people had a fab time. Those were the families with their kids in hysterics at Davro, loving their pretty and entertaining Cbeebies star, booing the Wicked Witch and enjoying Steph's vocals on their favourite pop songs.

For this the producers should be congratulated but I hope a lesson has been learned that theatre goers and the theatres themselves should be better advised when a show has been so substantially reworked from the original.

If this show had been promoted just a little differently I am sure some of those scathing national reviews would have been very, very different.

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