Shit-faced Showtime: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Leicester Square Theatre, London ★★★½

Reviewed for The Reviews Hub:

Anybody who has been sober in the presence of drunk friends knows that, far from being the masters of wit they imagine themselves to be, the inebriated rarely make for the most entertaining of people.

So the very concept of Shit-Faced Showtime – a musical offshoot of Magnificent Bastard Productions’ long-running Shit-Faced Shakespeare – is a little worrisome. What makes the concept work are the rules behind the show, which in this case revolves around a quick run through of the Wizard of Oz story, with songs from the Judy Garland movie, The Wiz and Wicked featuring. Only one actor has been drinking – and if in the course of their performance they go off script, then the rest of the cast must improvise along with them.

The choice of the Scarecrow – poor, brainless, loose-limbed Scarecrow – is a wise choice for the show’s alcohol-fuelled character. It helps that Alan McHale is a warm and engaging musical performer of course: while the audience may not be as tanked up as he is, they are on his side throughout, and he reciprocates their warmth towards him.

Humour, of course, derives from those moments where McHale stumbles over his lines, or over his feet. Other comedic elements, from the glove puppet Toto to Nick House’s cross-dressing Wicked Witch, work better when distracting McHale from his attempts to stick to the script than they do in bringing their own humour.

Indeed, for a show predicated on improv around a single situation, it is the rest of the cast’s attempts to improvise around their inebriated colleague that limits the ultimate enjoyment of this one-hour show. The conclusion to The Wizard of Oz can feel anti-climatic in the best of productions; here, it all descends into a bit of a mess, the eponymous shit-faced character bizarrely becoming the most in control.

Whether this improvised version of The Wizard of Oz will be as strong with one of the company’s other cast members in the role of sole inebriate remains to be seen. McHale sets a high bar for them, to be sure: as a singer and dancer who succeeds in performing a number of dance moves while not spilling his pint of beer, this is a performer who can, quite literally, hold his drink.