INSIDE the Empire Theatre a huge rainbow awaits.

It is a universal symbol of hope . . . dreams . . . friendship and the security of love. A perennial Christmas message.

This year The Wizard of Oz from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams is the venue's fabulous festive show straight from the London Palladium and it has a wonderful Wow factor with a slick and stylish production that will delight adults and children alike.

A high-tech, well-paced two-hour piece of visually striking storytelling merges old and new to maximum effect.

The 1939 MGM musical starring Judy Garland is the one version embedded in all our memory banks.

Now it is brought up to date (so to speak) with some stunning special effects, seamless back-projections and stage wizardry while sticking closely to the original classic tale.

Motorbikes and electronic broomsticks, superb costumes and breath-taking film backdrops add to the experience. This is also a masterclass in set design by Colin Rickmond.

Dorothy, played by the ultra confident and accomplished Aviva Tulley, instantly connects with the audience as does her dog Toto thanks to the dexterity of puppeteer Abigail Matthews.

Farm girl Dorothy believes the grass is greener elsewhere but soon that idea is put to the test with a fantasy journey of discovery.

She is whisked away by a Kansas tornado to the mystical, whimsical land of Oz via the Yellow Brick Road and neon-lit Munchkin Land.There Dorothy meets her fellow travellers - a trio of dreamers on the journey to the Emerald City,

Many stage versions cannot convey the magic and scope of the cinema classic, but here in this big scale touring version everything clicks into place and at times it reminded me of the current Dr Who re-boots.

Choreography, original pre war songs - including a soaring Over the Rainbow - and some new compositions by Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice make this a fully-rounded spectacle aided by a top-notch orchestra .

The central characters of Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man quickly establish themselves each stamping their own personalities on the roles notably aspects of vulnerability and moments of joyous witty humour in the songs If only I had a brain . . . a heart and the nerve. One of many musical highlights..

A very funny Scarecrow (Benjamin Yates); JLS's Astin Merrygold's funky Tin man and Nic Greenshields once cowardly lion make you want to run on stage and hug them.

Liverpool's Ru Paul Drag star The Vivienne received a typically warm home-coming reception and through the dry ice made the Wicked Witch of the West both boo-able and likeable. Her departure from the stage produces a very clever meltdown scene.

Th sinister winged monkeys and the marching troops are reminiscent of characters from Pet Shop Boys videos. This show grabs your attention from start to finish.

This Wizard of Oz is one of the best theatrical interpretations I have seen - one of the Empire's 'must see' family shows courtesy of an outstanding and at times electrifying ensemble.

Verdict: Five stars

A spell-binding spectacle

The production is at the Liverpool Empire until January 7