The Wizard Of Oz, Leeds Playhouse, until January 25 2020. Box office: 0113 213 7700 or at leedsplayhouse.org.uk
AGATHA Meehan is going places. Right now, the blossoming York acting talent is travelling in a whirling tornado from her Kansas farm to Oz and the Emerald City in the lead role of Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz.
Already she has starred in the West End as Summer Hathaway in School Of Rock and Annie in Annie, a part she first played for York Musical Theatre Company in March 2017 while a pupil at St George’s RC Primary School.
After adding Jane in the UK premiere of A Little Princess at the Royal Festival Hall to her London credits, now she is alternating Dorothy with Lucy Sherman in the first Christmas family musical in the Quarry Theatre since the Leeds Playhouse’s £15.8 million redevelopment. All this, and she is only 12 years old. What a whirlwind rise.
There’s no place that Agatha feels more at home than on stage, and she gives a remarkably assured performance, from the moment she sings the iconic Over The Rainbow.
Her Kansas accent is spot on; her Dorothy, in pigtails and farm dungarees and later the ever-evocative blue gingham dress, is a stoical young girl of moral conviction, passion and determination, challenging adult authority and inertia in Baum’s Kansas of the 1900s and Emerald City alike.
Combining Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg’s songs from the more innocent 1939 MGM film with John Kane’s witty, somewhat knowing 1987 script for the Royal Shakespeare Company, artistic director James Brining’s production delivers on an epic, filmic scale, full of heart and humour, joy and jeopardy, Munchkins and monkeys, mystery and magic.
Meehan’s Dorothy is surrounded by a combination of hi-tech and lo-tech, and likewise the familiar and the freshened up, with Jitterbug re-introduced as one of two premier league showstoppers alongside The Merry Old Land Of Oz, choreographed to dazzling effect by Lucy Cullingford.
Phil Cole’s Uncle Henry and Angela Wynter’s Aunt Em are a mixed-race couple; Eleanor Sutton is a female Scarecrow; Sam Harrison’s Tinman is gay and the outstanding Marcus Ayton is a black timorous Lion, with boxing moves and a knock-out singing voice to boot for If I Were King Of The Forest.
Simon Wainwright, from innovative Leeds company Imitating The Dog, provides the video projections for the twister scene that combine with the time-honoured skills of spinning aerialists. Toto the dog is played by a real dog before the storm, then by a puppet animated so expressively by Ailsa Dalling in Oz. Look out too for the crow puppets, and be sure to duck when the Wicked Witch of the West and her dive-bombing monkeys are flying overhead.
Polly Lister is terrifically terrifying as the mean, twisted neighbour Miss Gulch and the cackling, droll Wicked Witch, whose vamp camp air never quite ventures into pantomime villainy.
As you would expect of a major-city Christmas show, this is a big, big production: a cast of 20, supported by a young Leeds community company as the Munchkins; a band of 11 directed with panache by Tamara Saringer; and wonderful set and costume designs by Simon Higlett, whose palette progresses from parched, dustbowl Kansas with its plain farmhouse and water tower, to the spectacular greens and yellows of a futuristic Emerald City.
Click your ruby red heels, make a wish and find yourself having a wizard time on the Yellow Brick Road at Leeds Playhouse this winter.
Review by Charles Hutchinson