Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Big Finish Audio)

oz-cover-alt_cover_largeHow do you go to see the Wizard without a song in your heart? Easy. You just adapt the book rather than the movie and put some of Big Finish’s best talent on the case.

Produced by Scott Handcock with a script by Marc Platt from L. Frank Baum’s original this is an expansive affair that for the most part works really well. Ally Doman has the hardest job here, required to give Dorothy some edge and depth while still being fundamentally honest, decent and true. She manages it admirably and she’s the emotional heart of the entire thing. You like this Dorothy instantly and as a result when she’s in jeopardy, and she often is, you care.

Likewise Rachel Atkins does fantastic work as the Wicked Witch of the West. Just as it’s easy to make Dorothy self righteous it’s incredibly easy to make the Witch a pantomime villain. Atkins doesn’t do this, opting instead for a flamboyantly articulate tyrant who chews words like she chews enemies; with relish. She’s huge fun throughout and her performance counterpoints Doman’s very neatly.

Dorothy’s companions are a touch less successful. Dan Bottomley’s Scarecrow is sweet, gentle and likeable but Daniel Brocklebank’s slightly Melchett-esque Tin Woodsman shares a little too much common ground with Alex Jordan’s cowardly (and very posh) Lion. Both do great work and you’re never in doubt as to who’s talking but the characters would have benefited from being more distinctive, especially in the latter half.

Especially as that latter half is where things get really interesting. This does not end where the movie does, and Platt’s script does some interesting and successful work folding in some audio versions of the movie’s visual trickery. This is new ground, at least for someone like me who’s only seen the movie and it’s handled really well. Jacqueline King’s Good Witch in particular has a lot of fun here and the final half hour neatly hints at just how powerful and unsettling the Witches truly are.

Elsewhere there’s a lot to enjoy too. Stuart Milligan’s Oz is arch and sweet in exactly the way that James Franco’s cinematic take absolutely was not. Most fun of all though is Dan Starkey’s Winged Monkey Captain. He plays the character as a distinctly Peter Sellers-esque Union Boss, all official language and long suffering deadpan tones and it works brilliantly.

Verdict: This is a worthy addition to the Big Finish Classics line. It tackles a tough book head on and gives it new life and perspective with tremendous success. If you’re a fan of the original books or movie then there’s definitely something for you here. If you’ve never seen either, this is a great way to take your first visit to Oz. 8/10

Alasdair Stuart


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