The city’s lights have been switched on, Costa’s Christmas menu has been released, and the John Lewis advert has hit our screens once again. It’s officially the festive season. For the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield this can only mean one thing: The Wizard of Oz. Embrace the city’s festivities with a tin man, a scarecrow, a lion and, of course, a young girl named Dorothy.
“It feels like a very fresh retelling of the story and, even though we’re staying true to the story, the beautiful set brings it to life in a whole different way and it’s going to delight people I think,” Andrew Langtree, who plays the Scarecrow, remarks.
Robert Hastie, the director, offers a taste of Kansas in 1939 to a Sheffield audience and does so by working collaboratively with the cast. “I love the story of The Wizard of Oz and when I heard the names of the creatives involved, such as Rob, I really wanted to audition. He’s really good at allowing us to bring the ideas that we have to the role,” Max Parker, who performs as the Tinman, beams.
Like Hastie, this is Jonathan Broadbent’s first musical, which could be daunting for someone taking on a lead role as the cowardly Lion. “Well, I don’t have to act so much if I’m scared! No, it’s absolutely great; the humour is my sense of humour so we’re having a good laugh coming up with jokes and physical comedy and all sorts that we can all enjoy.”
All the cast members want for Christmas is for the audience to enjoy the show. “It’s such good fun doing a show at Christmas,” Broadbent continues. “People come to have a good time and they’re up for it which brings great energy that we, as actors, feed off.”
One actress who exudes nothing but positive energy is Gabrielle Brooks, who stars as Dorothy. “She’s sweet, she’s tough, she’s got an imagination that would rival any other child, loyal, compassionate. I love her – she’s great!” Brooks chimes.
Brooks is clearly thrilled about her leading role and says that it holds a special place in her heart. “Being a black actress, getting to play such an iconic role is so rare I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by. I found out about the role when I was doing Everyone’s Talking About Jamie earlier in the year and I immediately called my agent and said ‘Please, please, please I have to be seen for this. It’s a big deal and who knows when that opportunity will come again.’”
Since receiving the part Brooks hasn’t taken her ruby slippers off. “I’ve had about half an hour off since rehearsals started! But it’s all I’ve ever wanted to play a lead in a musical and I will never complain about it because I love it.”
It’s clear how much Brooks really loves being part of the play and she doesn’t underestimate the importance of her role. “I love Judy Garland. She’s incredible – we all know that. But I’m not Judy Garland. I can’t be her and, to be honest, I don’t want to be her. I want to be my own Dorothy. There will be kids in the audience who have never seen The Wizard of Oz and I will be their first experience of Dorothy; we will be their first The Wizard of Oz. I would be cheating them out of an experience if I tried to be someone else.”
Authenticity seems to be very important to Brooks, an idea which goes far beyond her performance as Dorothy. “Theatre is sharing stories. It’s a way to understand each other: understand each other’s cultures, understand each other as people. I think a lot of the ignorance, a lot of the hatred, a lot of the upset that exists in the world is because we don’t understand each other. Theatre lets you into someone else’s world and I think that’s very important for everyone.”
What can the audience take away from the world of Oz? “For anyone who’s already seen it, I want them to have a newfound love for it,” says Brooks. “It won’t be exactly what they’ve seen before but I think it’s important to love it in a new way. For the kids, I want them to have a lovely time at Christmas but I also want them to be reminded to be a good person; that’s what I want them to take from her [Dorothy]. It’s important to be a good person.”
To experience the magical world of Oz this winter, visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk. Performances run from 8 December 2017 to 20 January 2018.