St Helens Theatre Royal
February 10-18, 2024
Regal Entertainments and St Helen’s Theatre Royal follow their record-breaking Christmas pantomime Aladdin this February half-term with a trip over the rainbow to Oz.
In her programme notes, Regal’s producer and director Chantelle Nolan reports that 37,000 people watched Aladdin, and believing firmly in the power of panto, the theatre intends to continue regular panto-style school holiday shows.
This Wizard of Oz sees a mix of returning favourites and new faces, and while it doesn’t quite live up to the standard of the Aladdin, there’s still plenty for audiences to enjoy – and brings a much-needed shot of sparkle and colour to gloomy February.
The title isn’t the most natural fit for pantomime - there’s no Dame, for instance - but some really lovely musical numbers help to compensate for a slight reduction in panto silliness.
The monochrome setting of Kansas is nicely realised - and sees a lovely opening number - an effective mash-up of Oh What a Beautiful Morning and Good Morning. These are just a couple of songs from musicals that give the cast the chance to showcase some strong vocals. Others include Ease On Down the Road from The Wiz and One Short Day from Wicked.
Fans of the original Wizard of Oz will enjoy the lovely rendition of Over The Rainbow from Maddie Hope Coelho (Dorothy), as well as the If I Only Had a... numbers from Scarecrow (a jovial Michael Alan-Bailey), Tin Man (Lewis Canning, making an impressive professional debut), and the Lion (a charming Benjamin Keith).
Hayley Russell plays Glinda as a Dolly Parton-like, warm Southern Belle, while Regal regular Abigail Middleton is a fantastic Wicked Witch of the West (her Bat Out of Hell is a highlight). Warren Donnelly clearly has fun as the Wizard.
There is excellent ensemble support from senior dancers from Dynamix Performing Arts College and junior dancers from the Nazene Danielle School of Performing Arts.
Current topical issues and pop culture is reflected in jibes at Rishi Sunak; a twist on familarly enjoyable panto routines that owed a lot to the Barbie Movie (a particular hit with the youngsters in our party) and a great Traitors gag.
The crowd-pleasing, state-of-the-art 3D sequence seen at Christmas is replaced here with a more traditional neon puppet scene - clearly enjoyed by the audience, proving technology isn’t the be-all and end-all for panto viewers.
As ever, Regal earns paise for its family-friendly pricing, meaning at a time when many are feeling the pinch, live theatre can still be affordable.
And there's more to come: Regal returns to St Helens at Easter with Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
More info and tickets here