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Musical The Wizard of Oz, Leeds Playhouse

Solid seasonal production of musical classic

THE WIZARD of Oz  is a mainstay of festive viewing and, as such, it's a reliably safe production for the recently renamed and redeveloped Leeds Playhouse.

In a production that entertains rather than truly excites, the venue's artistic director James Brining hits the right balance between providing nostalgia for parents and fresh energy for children, with the story sympathetically updated character-wise. The Lion (Marcus Ayton) is a bluffing boxer in a champ T-shirt and there’s a passing reference to Tinman (Sam Harrison) being gay.

The central cast is ably completed by Eleanor Sutton as Scarecrow, Lucy Sherman as a tremendously capable Dorothy and Polly Lister, one step away from being in a pantomime with her humorously despicable Miss Gulch and Wicked Witch.

They all have enough personality to keep the action flowing in the first half but the pizzazz is saved for the second act.

Simon Higlett's design, relatively sparse in the opening scenes, relies heavily on video projections, which makes the grand reveal of Oz all the more spectacular. An art-deco feast in emerald, it compensates for the lack of show-stealing vocal performances.

The use of tinsel for forest creepers when Dorothy’s gang makes their way to the Witch’s castle provides an effective backdrop for bungee-jumping flying monkeys and a jitterbug routine, choreographed by Lucy Cullingford, is one of the show’s most memorable moments.

As a family show, it’s somewhat overlong at two-and-a-half hours, with a couple of scenes involving aerial silk acrobatics adding nothing more than entertaining padding.

More detrimental is the use of projections for the yellow brick road, which is more of a moving mustard-paint splatter than anything that could usefully guide the way.

Despite these minor quibbles, the show has enough heart — and the cast enough gusto — to make it a solid seasonal treat.

Runs until January 25, box office: leedsplayhouse.org.uk

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