Mesmerised by The Wizard of Oz Follow the Yellow Brick Road, well Wote Street, into the Haymarket where BATS' tremendous Wizard of Oz will be amusing and delighting audiences from Thursday evening.
Some performances are already sold out, so you need to move quickly to secure the seats you want for this superb show.
I was privileged to see it in dress rehearsal and young director Nick Brannam, who BATS’ chairman Anthony Mitchell rightly praises in his programme notes, has done another outstanding job taking something classic, retaining all of its strengths, and really making it work for contemporary audiences.
His joyous choreography fantastically evokes the spirit of the golden era of Hollywood (four beautiful lady snowflakes, a row of tap-dancing trees), and includes more modern techniques, too (the moves of the funky Lollipop Guild). Musical direction comes from experienced hand Neil Streeter.
Of course, Nick is also helped by the material, which offers outstanding character roles to his phenomenally strong cast of principals right across the board. Each and every actor mines every laugh or wrings every last drop of emotion from their role, and yet no one disturbs the equilibrium of the show.
And that’s quite something, when you consider that you have such outré characters to boo or to cheer.
Alyssia Kershaw, who is only 17, is lovely as Dorothy, oozing authenticity and compassion throughout, handling songs, dogs and whatever with aplomb. Gary J Myers makes for, appropriately, a really wonderful Wizard.
Tracey Gonzato has an absolutely world-beating maniacal cackle as the devious Wicked Witch of the West, whilst Laura Newborough as Glinda the Good Witch of the North is her perfect foil.
And the three main leading men are outstanding, combining physical comedy with perfect accents, vocals and interpretation of their characters’ supposed failings: Craig Saunders, phenomenal in his first principal role, is adorably higgledy-piggledy as the Scarecrow; Bryn Hughes is a top-notch tapping Tin Man; Ian ‘Spud’ Smith as the Lion will have you laughing so hard you’ll be wiping the tears from your eyes as he blusters, marches with the Winkies and rolls his paws theatrically.
Di Annakin and local behind-the-scenes legend Steve Brannam are Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, and two hardworking children's teams will be performing on alternate nights.
All of these performers are fully supported by smaller excellent character roles (Liam Brelsforth is a manic Oz guard), the ensemble, puppetry, production design – just watch the beiges and browns give way to the eye-popping spectacle of Oz - staging (a revolving road) and video animation (look out for the Basingstoke sign in the big tornado).
Inevitably, despite all of this, much of the attention on the night will fall on Scruffy and Tia, the two dogs who alternate the role of Toto.
I saw the latter in action and she was a star, snaffling sausages, tracking a bit of biscuit and effortlessly winning the heart of every single person watching! Joanne Mace