Juniors are just Wizard

PUBLISHED: 03:00 23 December 2001 | UPDATED: 11:04 03 March 2010

Christmas has really arrived in Ipswich with the curtain going up on the Co-op Juniors' production of the Wizard of Oz. PAUL GEATER took his son Max along – and got a wonderful surprise.

TO start with a confession. I have a love-hate relationship with the Judy Garland film Wizard of Oz.

I was terrified of it as a young child, and as it appeared on television year after year, I learned to love to hate it – even today a  few bars of "Over the Rainbow" can have me reaching for off switch on the remote control.

But I couldn't resist going to the Juniors' latest production – I thought they must make it more fun than the movie. And don't they just!

It's a power-packed celebration of song, dance, colour and entertainment with a stunning climax that's a great homage to America.

The first good news is that they don't use the songs from the film. The Juniors' musical supremo Nigel Virley has brought together a selection ranging from Johann Strauss (Senior) and Edvard Grieg  through to Oklahoma via a number of other (mainly American) standards to give the Juniors a chance to show off all their skills.

Helen McCraw is an enchanting Dorothy whisked from the wheat prairies of Kansas by a freak tornado and deposited in the Munchkin village of Oz.

Of course, the Juniors have loads of Munchkins of their own and they all showed off the verve and energy you expect from East Anglia's top amateur group.

Richard Rumbellow, Roger Loomes, and David Love as Dorothy's three friends, the lion, the scarecrow, and the tinman have a wonderful time throughout – I couldn't help feeling that the Tinman owed more to Mr Data from Star Trek than the original film. Another bonus!

Julie Houchell as Wicked Witch Wilhelmina provoked the booing and hissing that you expect from a good panto – while Louise Yule and Bridie Rowe as her good counterparts kept things in order.

But Max's – and most other children's – favourites were the incompetent army guarding the wicked witch.

With a precision that made Dad's Army look professional, they stole the show everytime the opening bars of Radzetsky's March could be heard and added a real comic touch to the show.

But for many the highlight of the show was the glorious finale, a wonderful celebration of American culture with singing, dancing, and a real injection of the feel-good factor.

A special mention should also be made of the technical people behind this production, with flying witches, a wonderfully-lit ghost feature and an illusion that had the audience gasping.

Yes, they've done what I'd always thought impossible – made The Wizard of Oz a wonderful piece of family entertainment that I'd recommend to anyone!


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