It’s called, ‘The Wizard of Oz’ but this isn’t the production you remember from your childhood. Beijing Jingshan School take this classic, well-loved musical and give it an innovative and enthusiastic twist.
It may not be quite the same but this production provides an interesting and colourful new interpretation of an old favourite.
All the basics are there: Dorothy and Toto; Aunty Em and Uncle Henry; Scarecrow, Lion and Tinman. But then there are the six (six!) evil witches, a shape-changing Wizard of Oz and a magic key rather than ruby slippers. Familiar tunes are mixed with new songs and instead of blue gingham dress, Dorothy wears a jaunty red number with a black and red tulle skirt.
The scale of the production is spectacular. The costumes are imaginative and eye-catching without being slavishly derivative of the 1939 film. Large, moving animations are projected across screens to create scene changes. With over 70 students from the Beijing Jingshan School sharing the stage (and in some case, roles), it seems unfair to pick out particular performers for praise. Additionally, every single child puts such energy and commitment into their performances that there are no weak links. When one considers the age of many of the performers and the fact that they are performing a long show in a second language, their achievements are all the greater. Their physicality is particularly noteworthy – characterful actions large and confident enough to reach right to the back of the last row of the huge King’s Theatre.
There are occasionally some odd moments in the script, when the language becomes strangely formal or unexpectedly casual. Some large changes have been made to the end of the show, presumably to shorten it (the production comes in at just 90 minutes, including interval). Unfortunately however, it means that the finale drags, losing some of the familiar fun and power of the original and the attention of the young audience. I suspect the show could have been shortened even further and would have really packed a punch.
It may not be quite the same but this production provides an interesting and colourful new interpretation of an old favourite. If the eager yelling, cheering and clapping of the children in the audience are any guide, the changes and small problems little altered their overall enjoyment of the show.