Josette Bushell-Mingo‘s sparkly new reworking of The Wiz has “eased on down” to the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Following Birmingham Rep's successful run at the city's New Alexandra Theatre, this African-American version of The Wizard of Oz takes Dorothy out of Kansaas into modern day Leeds.
Earlier this year, open auditions took place across Leeds for the community cast that support Dorothy (X-Factor’s Treyc Cohen), the Lion (Clive Rowe), the Scarecrow (Wayne Robinson), the Tinman (Horace Oliver) and The Wiz himself (Peter Straker). The young singers, actors and dances in the ensemble have done us proud with their animated, lively and enchanting performances.
A feisty, rebellious teenager; Cohen‘s interpretation of Dorothy’s resentment towards Aunt Em and Uncle Henry is reminiscent of Harry Enfield‘s Kevin The Teenager. She’s frustrated and fed-up with her life in Leeds, but throughout this poignant and moving narrative she realises that Adderperle the Good Witch’s prophecy is correct; you’re better off with the devil you know.
After a freak storm lands her in Oz, Dorothy and her new friends seek to find the enigmatic Wiz. Hoping for a ticket home, courage, a brain and a heart, the foursome realise that they themselves had the power all along to self-fulfil these wishes.
The sensational vocal talents of the cast are complemented by vivid, colourful costumes and stunning lighting. The representation of the field of trippy poppies by female dancers waving huge red, feathered fans against a red-lit backdrop was hypnotic, as was the shimmering, dripping water effect on the home of the Wicked Witch Eveline and the Good Witch Glinda’s glittering performance of 'If You Believe' with diamond-like ballroom lighting shining onto the audience.
The Wiz’s home in Emerald city was represented by a nightclub-type building with the word “OZ” in fluorescent green light above the door and a no-nonsense Scottish female bouncer in front of it. The Wiz had various groupies who all wore green clothes and neon sunglasses. Comic elements such as this, and regular references in jest to Leeds and the North added a pantomime-like element to the show which is by no means a bad trait.
Never before have I encountered whooping, dancing and the word “brap” cheered at the Playhouse. It was like stepping into another world; one full of soul, funk and jollity. Whilst, like Dorothy, it made me feel as though I’d left Leeds, I unfortunately didn’t really share her enthusiasm at having returned “home” once the excitement was over.
If you’re looking for an evening of good old-fashioned, feel-good, sing-a-long fun, then The Wiz will be right up your yellow brick road.
The Wiz will run until July 16th. For tickets call the Box Office on 0113 2137700 or go to www.wyp.org.uk