zoo-nationFor big old gays like me, The Wizard of Oz is a sacred text; it’s the Bible, the Quran and Das Kapital rolled into one. And you don’t mess with it. Well, my pretties, maybe you do… much to my surprise, I totally adored ZooNation‘s hip-hop, updated, streetwise urban mash-up of the story of Dorothy and her friends, dancing on down the yellow brick road to meet the Wizard. The transposition to a modern classroom works incredibly well, with schoolroom character traits coming to life when we reach Oz – the bully needs a heart, the bullied needs some courage, the pushover needs brains. The inventive choreography is fabulous and the staging is constantly inventive with witty touches throughout (the Wicked Witch of the West’s name is reduced to a website address: www, obviously). There’s an underlying subtext about enthusing our young people with creativity in the classroom, which is a bonus, but it’s the explosive energy and dynamic commitment of the young dancers that takes your breath away. The yellow bricks snake around the auditorium, and by the time the lion joined the party, I was ready to hit that road myself and bust some moves (don’t worry, I resisted). The arrival at ‘Emerald City High’ is hysterical, a brilliant contrast to Dorothy’s drab grey schoolroom, full of high-stepping, riverdancing, green-uniformed preppy kids. Our heroes’ dance-off against the Witch and her scary monkeys is genuinely thrilling and, as ever, Dorothy’s farewell to her friends brought a tear to my eye (like I said: big old gay). For goodness sake, we even get a bit of WB Yeats at the end – they are messing with my head! All the performers are sensational, the 11-year old Dorothy keeping up with the big boys throughout, and the two witches are a brilliantly idiosyncratic contrast. All the logic says I should have loathed every minute, so huge respect to Zoonation for proving me so utterly wrong. Behind the moon, beyond the rain…

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