The Wizard of Oz boasts one of the most gloriously disorientating moments in cinema when Judy Garland's Dorothy steps into Oz and grainy Kansas grey switches to magical Technicolor. Fast forward to the 1970s and it didn't take a huge leap to see the far-out Emerald City where talking lions, sinister flying monkeys and munchkins roam, as a "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"-style landscape. William F Brown wrote his psychedelic update, The Wiz, in 1975 with soul and gospel numbers for an all-black cast. Three years on Broadway later, The Wiz became a film, starring Diana Ross as Dorothy and with a Scarecrow played by Michael Jackson.
Now, Ovation theatre company has revived the flower-powered musical, ambitiously staging it in the upstairs of Highgate's Gatehouse pub and strangely with no black actors. As Dorothy trips down the Yellow Brick Road, she meets Spencer James's elastic Scarecrow, Jonathan Eio's tap-dancing, soul-singing Tinman (or "spaced-out garbage can") and a hippie Lion (Andrew Fitzpatrick) complete with afro, round shades and Pucci-print jacket, who never quite recovers from a drug-hazed, free-love episode in a poppy field.
As the good witch Addaperle, Louisa Copperwaite displays good comic timing in her drag-queeny get-up, while Caroline Fox as Glinda gives a throaty, soulful performance, resembling Dusty Springfield in her platinum bobbed wig and vertiginous white platform boots.
Among these caricatures, Sarah Boulton's Dorothy stands out with an innocent, natural performance. Shoving her hands shyly into her dungarees' pockets, her singing voice is crystal clear and she performs the sometimes samey choreography with a sparkle befitting her ruby slippers.
The fresh-out-of-drama-school cast builds up a good rapport with the audience. Ingenious use of glitter and the occasional knowing trick save it from all-out cheesiness while acknowledging its unpolished production values. The story and the uniformly strong voices (is there really any need for distracting face mics in this small space?) are undeniably constricted by their surroundings. There is an overriding sense of an end-of-term play about it, but you'd have to be a Wicked Witch of the West not to find something to enjoy in this energetic updating of a childhood classic.
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