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The Wiz

Based on the book by William F Brown

Hope Mill Theatre, with Ameena Hamid Productions

Hope Mill Theatre

November 24, 2021-January 16, 2022; run time 2hrs

Tarik Fimpong (Scarecrow), Cherelle Williams (Dorothy), Jonathan Andre (Lion), Llewellyn Graham (Tinman) in The Wiz at Hope Mill Theatre. All pics: Pamela Raith Photography

This is a thoroughly exciting show, with a cast full of energy, enthusiasm and rhythm, communicating real joy as they present this now cult-classic interpretation of The Wizard of Oz. The standard of singing is excellent and the choreography dazzling.

The show follows the original story faithfully, though the context is changed: Dorothy leaves "Kansas" – actually a kitchen with a TV on in the background – and faces a contemporary adventure suitable for a 21st Century young British girl.

The score is drenched in 1970s soul, which gives it a surprisingly timeless quality and a rhythmic basis like few others; but there are plenty of modern references to bring the show up to date. I liked the use of lighting and projection to construct the land of Oz.

The cast is outstanding, but among individuals the dancing of Scarecrow Tarik Fimpong is often a blur of action, and the song Dorothy (Cherelle Williams) delivers at the end will live long in the memory. I also enjoyed the energetic, imaginative dance ensemble. This is a very happy, stylish show, which offers a great Christmas feeling and is a pleasure to watch.

Of course, the story is iconic for good reason, with its message of finding within yourself all that is necessary to overcome any challenge. Interestingly, the strongest characters are female and the males are often found wanting.

Without being preachy, the show makes us aware of some of the issues that face black people as they continue to face structural and incidental prejudice and discrimination. There is a nuance here that speaks about Oz not being the land of golden opportunity we think, and that "home" has its merits.

Director Matthew Xia has put together an eclectic cast including new graduates, experienced professionals and even one principal performer making his professional debut. This is a small venue with a strong community feel and an obvious loyal local following; intimate and with a great sense of immediacy and action.

This musical has never made it to the West End, but after a performance like this, that can only be mystifying.

Tickets and information here


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