Spinning off from the same company that brought you Shit-faced Shakespeare (on which you can find culturised’s thoughts here) Shit-faced Showtime: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz takes the journey down the yellow brick road to all new heights. The premise remains the same: one classically trained musical theatre actor gets classically drunk and the group of actors try to stage the play as best they can around this inebriated inconvenience. We were informed that, prior to this particular evening’s show, our drunken actor (Alan McHale) had consumed two bottles of Aldi’s finest white wine. Now, if you are expecting high calibre musical theatre this is certainly not the performance for you. However, it is an incredibly humorous evening of something a little bit different combined with considerable unpredictability.
Directed by Tamsyn Kelly and under the musical direction of Nick House (who also plays the roles of witch and wizard), this outing of Shit-faced Showtime: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz brings together songs from Wicked, The Wizard of Oz, and various other productions in a condensed hour-long whirlwind. Musical fans will be pleased to note the inclusion of “One Short Day” from Wicked and the classic “Over the Rainbow” from the eponymous film. Sticking to the original tale Dorothy and Toto go over the rainbow in a cyclone to arrive in the Land of Oz. Here two slightly overgrown munchkins and the good witch Glinda are on hand to help as her house has crushed the Wicked Witch of the East. Following some slightly nonsensical discussions it becomes apparent that Dorothy must travel to Oz to seek the wisdom of the all powerful Wizard on how to return home, picking up some unlikely friends on the way as well as a new mission to defeat the Wicked Witch of the West.
It would be fair to say this production falls closer to the realm of pantomime than musical but what it lacks in production it certainly makes up for in humour. Like pantomime there is some intentional (and unintentional) audience interaction that brings down the fourth wall, helped by the format’s focus on the actors and how they handle the situation, rather than necessarily how well they perform their parts. The drunkenness engages with that silly aspect of pantomime we all know and love, allowing us to see past (and often heartily enjoy) any obvious production flaws. The transformation of the “shit-faced” format from Shakespeare plays to musical theatre is also quite interesting to see as it adds a variety of new challenges for the actors: pitch rather than pentameter becomes the central concern of the drunk for the evening. Shit-faced Showtime: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz drifts considerably from what most expect from musical theatre, but taking on the right elements of pantomime allows the actors to adapt considerably and maintain a performance in very trying circumstances.
Playing late on a Sunday evening at the Leicester Square Theatre, this drunken parody in the heart of theatreland certainly plays to its audience. McHale’s main role as the Scarecrow without a brain sees some particularly interesting encounters with his cohorts as he attempts to remember choreography, harmony, and at points even the plot. A favourite of his improvised lines was “I don’t have a brain, but I do have a lot going on”, something certainly true of the production. Supporting him are Issy Wroe Wright (Dorothy), Dora Rubinstein (Glinda/Lion), Tom Tilley (Tin Man), and Nick House (Witch/Wizard). The rest of the cast do a superb job of ensuring the show remains firmly on the road (if sometimes straying slightly from the yellow bricks) and improvise around all of McHale’s hiccups and outbursts. Additionally there is the show’s compere (David Ellis), whose sole job is to ensure the safety of the actor, stop them from doing anything particularly illegal, and if required ply them with further alcohol.
There is also some inventive staging in Shit-faced Showtime: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; the cyclone is created with the use of a sheet and a flying Toto, and some of the choreography is surprisingly good with all things considered. The stage is thankfully free from obstacles for our drunken performer and at the back of the stage is a cardboard cut out of the house masking the keyboard from which Nick House (an apt surname in this context) plays. There is something adult school production about Shit-faced Showtime: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that makes it endearing for the viewer as we are transported back to our own school play days (but with more alcohol involved). This is cheesy and it makes no apology for it so if you want a light-hearted evening watching a production collapse around itself as they try to keep it together to reach the end of the hour then this is definitely something worth checking out.
Shit-faced Showtime: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is showing at the Leicester Square Theatre the 16th and 23rd July. For more information and tickets see here.