Writer: L. Frank Baum
Adapted by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company
Music and Lyrics: Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg
Director: James Brining
Musical Director: Tamara Saringer
Reviewer: Rich Jevons
Leeds Playhouse’s production based on the classic MGM film has everything you could wish for as the recently reopened and revamped venue’s festive theatrical present. A fantastic ensemble performance, crystal clear direction by James Brining, outstanding and endearing choreography by Lucy Cullingford, aerial stunts, stunning projections, The Wizard of Oz band and of course a cairn terrier as Toto plus a lifelike puppet of Dorothy’s lovable companion.
Lucy Sherman, sharing the role of Dorothy with Agatha Meehan, is a revelation, not too cutesy but not exactly feisty either, just the right amount of wonder and innocence on her travels. There is hardly a dry eye in the house for her redolent take on ‘Over the Rainbow’ which she belts out with aplomb. While her nemesis Miss Gulch (Polly Lister) who transforms in Oz into the Wicked Witch receives panto-esque boos with her pernicious and poisonous performance.
As in the film the members of Dorothy’s extended family double up as characters in the dream-world of Oz with Phil Cole and Angela Wynter as Uncle Henry and Aunt Em transforming into the Emerald City Guard and Glinda the Good Witch respectively.
Once in Oz Dorothy meets her three little helpers with Marcus Ayton (Lion, Zeke back home), Eleanor Sutton (Scarecrow also Hunk) and Sam Harrison (Tin Man and Hickory) giving a true sense of magic realism so suited to the piece. All three are utterly charming and constantly comical, though there are moments of suspense and high drama. Graham Hoadly’s Professor and Wizard are pretty true to the original, the latter with failed attempts at hoodwinking Dorothy and friends into believing he has real magic.
The songs are simply ecstatically beautiful and the dancing to The Merry Old Land of Oz and Jitterbug is wondrous. Perhaps the main point of absolute excellence though goes to Simon Higlett’s set and costumes, from the rustic farmyard to the magical Oz and fantastic Emerald City. He does dark too in his designs for the Wicked Witch’s lair. And as if that were not enough to deserve five stars there is Simon Wainwright’s video projections that make the twister at the beginning and Dorothy’s return to Kansas all the more believable.
One word of warning though is that the aerial flying monkeys are so scary the younger members of the audience may have to be forewarned and protected from their fearful approaches! A piece of total theatre that is a festive feast for all the senses.
Runs until 25th January 2020 | Image: Contributed