REVIEW: The Wizard Of Oz, Leeds Playhouse ✭✭✭✭✭

Last Updated on 27th December 2019

Jonathan Hall reviews The Wizard Of Oz this year’s family festive treat from the Leeds Playhouse.

The Wizard Of Oz review Leeds Playhouse
Agatha Meehan (Dorothy) and the young ensemble of The Wizard Of Oz. Photo: The Other Richard

The Wizard Of Oz
Leeds Playhouse
5 Stars

The Wizard of Oz- this year’s Christmas show at the newly revamped Leeds Playhouse- is a colourful, spectacular life-affirming treat. The classic tale of a girl (and her dog) lost in a strange land, trying to find her way home hits a topical note as we stumble towards a general election where many of us feel similarly lost. The show, directed with verve and vigour by Playhouse director James Brining adheres closely to the iconic 1939 movie, which is apparently the most-watched movie of all time. All the film’s iconic elements are there- a screaming witch, technicoloured Munchkins, a yellow brick road- right down to Dorothy belting out ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow;’ whilst perched on a farm wagon in dusty Kansas. However, despite the fact that the source material is some 80 years old the story hasn’t dated at all- a family struggling with economic realities, a self-righteous, privileged bully, a feared leader who is, in reality, a charlatan- all of these, plus some clever tweaks of characterisation-  (a female scarecrow and a tin man in love with a woodman) gave us a story that felt bang up to date.

Wizard Of Oz Leeds Playhouse
Eleanor Sutton as The Scarecrow. Photo: The Other Richard

Perhaps because the film predated the age of cinematic electronic and animatronic wizardry, its translation to the stage was always going to be a smooth one; a mix of physical and back-projected magic produces a succession of wonderful effects; a yellow brick road with a life of its own, a glittering emerald city and a sensational tornado complete with flying debris, a witch on a broomstick and Dorothy borne aloft and twirled around by the wind.

Agatha Meehan
Graham Hoadly (Professor) and Agatha Meehan (Dorothy). Photo: The Other Richard

Of course, any production of the Wizard of Oz stands or falls by its Dorothy; in the person of Lucy Sherman, one of two actresses working in the role, the Playhouse has struck gold. In a role that has the bar set as high as the rainbow itself by Judy Garland she maintained terrific levels of passionate energy and belief throughout; her singing voice is terrific and when she sang the iconic ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ she was eerily reminiscent of Ms Garland herself. She was supported by a terrific ensemble cast, stand out among were Polly Lister as a truly melodramatic and operatic Wicked Witch of the West and Sam Harrison as the lovelorn Tin Man. Mention must also be made of the younger members of the ensemble who brought to life the Munchkins with a joyful but precise choreography set by Lucy Cullingford.

Wicked Witch Of The West Leeds Playhouse
Polly Lister as the Wicked Witch of the West. Photo: The Other Richard

The set by Simon Higlett was a technicolour confection of rainbows, fields, trees, cities and castles, which revolved, projected and turned to produce the various scenarios and The Wizard of Oz band produced a terrific soundtrack- sadly unseen except for a brief televisual appearance during the curtain call.

The Wizard of Oz is one of those films that has entered the worldwide DNA and is always generating new generations of fans; to see the response of the young (and not so young) audience at the end of the show last night it’s safe to say this Leeds Playhouse production has generated a whole new generation.

Until 25 January 2019

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