BWW Reviews: GROOVE ON DOWN THE ROAD: A JOURNEY TO OZ, Queen Elizabeth Hall, August 14 2013
If you've seen Michael Jackson and Diana Ross in The Wiz, you'll know that L. Frank Baum's classic tale can stand a bit of interpretation - and if you've seen Zardoz, you'll know that it can stand a lot of interpretation. Thankfully, ZooNation's Groove On Down The Road (at the Queen Elizabeth Hall until 1 September) takes its inspiration from the former, rather than the latter.
A schoolroom is populated by bored teens. Dorothy is told that her poem is unacceptable, S. Crowe that his spelling is atrocious, T. Mann bullies a frightened Lionel heartlessly - and suddenly we're all in Oz.
Dancing to music from the likes of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and hip-hop superstars I'm far too old to recognise, Dorothy leads the gang - joined by a very tumbly Toto - as it eases on down the road all the way to the Emerald City and The Great Oz himself. En route, they fight off the Wicked Witch of the West and her flying monkeys and even survive the poppy fields' temptations of sex and drugs and hip and hop, to find that the things they most wanted were, of course, within themselves.
Portia Oti is a fine Dorothy, perplexed and even a little prissy when disposing of the poppies, but true to her mission and her friends. She's given fine support by audience favourite Michael McNeish as Toto, as much an acrobat as streetdancer. The three friends (Jaih Betote Dipito Akwa, Michael Ureta and Corey Culverwell) have a lot of fun, and we don't miss the Tin Man's orange piping on his grey boiler suit, a nod in the direction of the uniform of the American penitentiary. Chante Simpson is winsome as Good Witch Gee and Annie Edwards is only a little bit wicked as the Witch of the West. Steven Pascua has a lot of fun as Oz himself - as does his very own Mini-Me, William Pascua.
Kate Prince has produced a perfect show for multicultural London's long school holiday season. The teens (and pre-teens) will love the dancing, the spectacular costumes (by Ben Stones) and the kids who look just like they do, up there on the big stage, making it. Parents won't be too put off by the hip-hop, which isn't as heavy as it might be, nor is there the ear-bleeding rap that can divide generations like nothing since Elvis. There's a lovely sequence to "Off The Wall" freeing the monkeys and reminding us of when we were gawky teens too and Michael Jackson soundtracked our first kisses in the dark of the disco.
Pace, as ever, is everything in theatre aimed at a youth audience, and Groove On Down The Road grooves for 75 minutes without an interval and finishes to the screams, whistles and applause of an audience who loved it all the way from Kansas to Oz and back again.