Hippodrome audience was blown away by this whirlwind production

The Wiz at the Royal Hippodrrome Theatre
The Wiz at the Royal Hippodrrome Theatre

Stage a complete musical in a week? Pull a company of fifty-odd youngsters together on stage? You should have been at the Royal Hippodrome Theatre last week, where Trapdoor’s summer school did just that.

Call her crazy, and she might not disagree with you, but Debbie Hackett never stops. She is one of the directors of Ratton Academy of Performing Arts (RAPA) and Trapdoor - and this summer, with Alex Adams, she has been staging the excellent Hippodrome variety show Musicality every Tuesday and Wednesday.

With four children of her own, that ought to be quite enough to occupy Debbie. Nope. An empty August week? A Trapdoor summer school fills it nicely. Fortunately, the two elder Hacketts are old enough and super-talented enough to take key roles, while the two under-threes are kept busy by a marvellous extended family.

Actually, the summer school lot all feel like extended family anyway. Debbie and Alex have planned the week in fine detail, and their creative team would be the envy of any theatre in the county. Nicola Brazier, one of the nicest MDs I have ever met, assuredly takes the baton, top local dancer Star Bray is teaching the choreography, and on the acting side they have enlisted Damon Willer, the Rattonian who proves that all teachers are actors really.

So, all you need now is children - and a mere 55 of them have signed up, aged from 7-18. With all the mums, dads and grandparents primed to turn up expectantly at Saturday’s performances, the team have just five days to channel the talent into a full(ish) production of The Wiz. “It’s a challenge,” admits Debbie, “but we chose it because the show has masses of openings for our whole age and aptitude range. There are several terrific lead roles, but also a whole range of ensemble numbers with lively music and dance. The Wiz is such a good musical and it deserves to be better known.”

If The Wiz doesn’t ring a bell with you, think rock version of The Wizard of Oz. It is ironic that that rather twee and dated musical - with its one really great number, Over the Rainbow - should have inspired two other musicals better than the original. While Wicked continues to fill theatres, The Wiz also keeps all the fun of the Judy Garland movie while adding an irresistible upbeat momentum.

It brings back a few happy memories. Eastbourne’s last staging of The Wiz a full decade ago at the Devonshire Park. Remarkably, no fewer than eight of that cast have since gone on to top professional training and performing careers. One, Will Hawksworth, is currently appearing in Matilda the Musical while another, Adam Pitts, is drumming in the rock band Lawson. Now, it’s time for the next generation...

Truthfully, I turned up for Saturday’s final performance with modest expectations - simply because of those constraints of time. But, along with an excited audience, we were blown away like a Kansas twister. There was energy, precision and real quality on show. Some of the staging was understandably minimalist, but creative use of sound, back projections and bright costumes gave the show a truth and professionalism.

All the leads were confident, bold and on top of their characters. Grace Allen was a lovable Dorothy, delivering driven, explosive versions of Move On Down and the torch song, Home. Eliza Hackett and Libby Rudolph sparkled as Good and Wicked Witches. And Dorothy’s travelling companions Hani Sadat, Ben Williamson and Jake Jonas drew life and humour from Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion. The Wiz himself was a quirky Alex Dry, nicely capturing that spaced-out-man feel of the Michael Jackson and Diana Ross movie version.

And the other 48 cast members? Dancing and singing their hearts out, they had an absolute ball, and the supporters club in the stalls loved it too. There are much worse ways to spend your long school holidays. By Kevin Anderson.

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