As a Stockport resident, I’ve often walked by The Plaza on my way to the big ASDA, and wondered what it’s like inside. For me, it’s as iconic as the viaduct archways or the chimney protruding from the Hat Museum on Wellington Road South. I look out for the neon red and green lights of its signage as my train pulls into the station, and know that I’m nearly home. So, when I heard The Wizard of Oz was showing at The Plaza, I jumped at the chance to head to the theatre.
Now, I don’t have any children, and there are none in the vicinity that I can borrow for an afternoon, so I decide to go it alone. Ever since I was little, I’ve loved MGM’s The Wizard of Oz. I envied Dorothy’s adventure, and relished the fairy-tale ending. It was only when re-watching the film as an adult that I realised just how dark the film is at times (and then there’s 80s follow-up Return to Oz which I can’t even speak about. The Wheelers still haunt my dreams). The sepia tones of Kansas, the tornado, the disappointment that Oz was only a man and not a wizard, all that green make-up. But I suppose it’s like any well-loved tale, as an adult you begin to create subtext.
The stage show is vamped up. While the main thread of narrative is still apparent, it does go off on a bit of a tangent. There are some slightly odd filler-moments, including a very bizarre ghost strip-tease where s/he removes his/her body parts, rather than clothes, and a glow in the dark train full of teddy bears. Even the kid sat next to me leans close to her friend and whispers, “bit weird.”
But then there are some delightful additions, including a musical interlude which descends into a fit of giggles when one of the actors slips on a patch of water onstage after another actor squirted the audience with a water pistol – much to the delight of all children, and the terror of all adults (what is it about the threat of water that makes adults cower in fear?).
The kids are fully immersed in the action (and some of the more enthusiastic adults seem to enjoy a bit of audience participation) with shouts of ‘he’s behind you’ and ‘she went that way’. Pop-tunes are interspliced with the original songs which, although they begin to grate on me, are well received by the younger members of the audience who eagerly clap and sing along. Having said that, I do enjoy The Wicked Witch of the West’s (Cheryl Ferguson) rendition of Little Mix’s Black Magic, and the upbeat finale of Can’t Stop the Feeling which has everyone up on their feet.
The ensemble cast is impressive, and the girls obviously enjoy every moment of being on stage. Then there are the juvenile dancers who are, quite honestly, the most adorable munchkins I’ve ever seen. They are clearly having an absolute ball.
It’s a thoroughly enjoyable show and the cast are adept at entertaining little ones with great enthusiasm and comedy. And there’s some real talent there too. Not only do the cast need to sing and dance, but they’ve got to be funny. For me, the stand out performances are Maddie Hope Coelho as the sickly-sweet version of Dorothy – she can seriously sing (what is about Somewhere Over the Rainbow that almost brings me to tears every time I hear it?) – and Cheryl Ferguson as The Wicked Witch of the West. Ferguson’s comic asides (at one point she quips, “oh shut it, you wannabe Mancunians.”) booming voice and brilliant cackle make her perfect for the role. Obviously, there were some not-so subtle references to her career in EastEnders for the adults to chuckle at.
Simon Foster is great as the cowardly lion, clutching at his tail and roaring the famous line, “Put ‘em up. Put ‘em up” (although, I wasn’t a fan of his slating of a famous older female celebrity’s body for a quick – unnecessary – punchline) and Philip McGuinness and David Heath are equally as charming as The Tinman and The Scarecrow (I did miss If I Only Had a Brain from the original film which was my favourite as a little un). Olivia Sloyan plays Glinda with a good dose of humour to counteract the bubble-gum dress and sweetness. Oh, and – as a dog obsessive – I’ve got to mention the wonderful Buddy as Toto.
I leave The Plaza feeling happy. It’s one of those days where the weather is changeable but luckily the sun is shining for the five-minute walk back to my house. Before I know it, I’m singing “follow the yellow brick road, follow the yellow brick road” a little louder than I initially hoped.
But that’s the point of these shows, isn’t it? To provide some fun family entertainment and cheer us all up. The Wizard of Oz certainly made me smile.
The Wizard of Oz is at The Plaza, Stockport until August 12, 2017. More info: http://stockportplaza.co.uk