Did The Wizard of Oz, which has arrived on the stage of the West Yorkshire Playhouse from Birmingham Repertory Theatre, come by the yellow brick road or was it snatched up in a tornado? By whatever means of transport Rachel Kavanaugh's co-production reached Leeds, it is lucky to have retained the same Dorothy. Helen Owen makes a resourceful, ruby-slippered heroine, with a beguiling naturalness and a clear, bell-like voice.
Of course, the success of the show relies as much on the double, sometimes triple, casting of the colourful beings who inhabit the two worlds in which Dorothy finds herself. All these multi-part players - from sharply characterised principals to crows, lollipop-bearers or flying monkey-slaves - relish every word and note of Harold Arlen and EY Harburg's music and lyrics. Whether in their stomping contribution to the Pythonesque army of Winkles or in the bouncy "Jitterbug" dance, they demonstrate tremendous zest.
The technical wizardry on stage is impressive, from the black-and-white opening scene - whose stark tones give life on the Kansas farm an even bleaker appearance - to the backdrops against which Dorothy and her chums endeavour to see the Wizard. The transition between Dorothy's worlds is achieved by way of a brilliant grainy film sequence, in which she is wrenched from her bed, whirled through the air and tumbled into the surreal land of witches. The spinning cogs and wheels of the interior of the Wizard's head, the simple, vibrant settings for Munchkinland and the Emerald City, and the startlingly colourful costumes of these fantastic characters make it hard not to surrender to the show's magic when it is so alluringly created by the designer Peter McKintosh.
The talking scarecrow, the cowardly lion and the clunking tinman, the cackling wicked witch and the sugary good witch are brought vividly to life. But as far as the young audience around me was concerned, Toto, the starring canine role, upstages them all. The small Munchkins are played by some confident and enthusiastic young Leeds residents (clearly enjoying "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead") but the twee costumes, rosy make-up and slightly sickly interpretation of this scene left me feeling uncomfortable.
Kavanaugh may play it straight, but aspects of L Frank Baum's story are dated and more than a little un-PC, not least Dorothy's willingness to engage so willingly with such a strange man as Professor Marvel. Some of the numbers - including, unfortunately, Dorothy's first "Over the Rainbow" - are crudely accompanied by a band within which some instruments are brashly over-amplified. This created an unwelcome barrier, I felt, between the audience and the more subtle elements of the world of Oz. These reservations apart, and the fact that it seems quite a scary show for children, the visual spectacle alone makes it worth going off to see this Wizard of Oz.
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