The Wizard of Oz


King's Theatre

PACKED with special effects and boasting a vast cast to people its Land of Oz, this is a hugely ambitious project from Edinburgh's own Southern Light Opera.

The good witch descends from on high, the bad appears in a thunder-flash of violent red smoke, monkeys fly, and the Wizard of Oz really does disappear up into the air on his big balloon.

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Even in Kansas, the scenery is way beyond that you would expect from a local amateur company.

It is in the breaking of both the cardinal rules of showbiz that the SLO have their greatest hit, however.

An army of children have been brought in to play the Munchkins who make Dorothy their queen when her house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East. And, upstaging even them, Dorothy's cute dog, Toto, is played by a real pooch, Flora.

It would be wrong to say that the SLO have bitten off more than they can chew for the production. But with all their extra technical support going on back stage, there is a lot more to get right, over and above the basics. So it is rather that it is a production that needs a bit more chewing before it is fully digestible.

When it comes down to the performances, however, SLO have got the basic singing, dancing, and acting exactly right, while their 24-strong orchestra provide a strong and atmospheric performance under the baton of David McFarlane.

Kirsten Raeburn puts in a more than convincing performance in the role of Dorothy. A little too robust in her singing to fully please fans of Judy Garland, she copes well with the distraction - both for her and for the audience - of having Toto on the end of a lead for most of the performance.

Of the friends Dorothy makes on her path along the Yellow Brick Road to the city of Oz, Alan Hunter's Scarecrow is easily the most pleasing. He has a pleasant singing voice and all the physical presence needed for the Scarecrow's falling about antics.

Scott Walker is unfortunately hampered by his magnificent-looking Tin Man costume, which makes for the only real microphone problems of the night, to the point that you can't tell whether he is supposed to be tap dancing or has trodden on a drawing pin and is really doing a soft-shoe shuffle.

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If they, together with Gary Gray's Lion, all create strong characters, it is the baddies who count for most. And Elspeth Smith brings a real sense of viciousness to her Wicked Witch of the West.

She could afford to be even more over-the-top, but her cackle is perfect in its hideousness.

This will get slicker over the week, and it needs to, but it is a perfectly acceptable production of an old and much-loved favourite, with all the songs from the film present and correct.

Run ends Saturday

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