I had a feeling I was going to love Groove on Down the Road long before we saw it.
It’s a hip hop adaptation of one of my favourite childhood musicals The Wiz (a soulful reworking of The Wizard of Oz) and features the next generation of stars from super hot dance theatre company Zoo Nation. What’s not to love?
But I wasn’t prepared for how totally blown away I would be by the performance on Thursday night. Right after it finished, even as we were all still dancing and clapping to the encore, I wanted to hit rewind and watch the show all over again.
The fun starts as soon as you enter Queen Elizabeth Hall where a yellow brick road (made up of pages torn from schoolbooks) leads you into the auditorium. [Here’s an after-party shot of the babes grooving down the road and, further down, with lead actress Dorothy (Portia Oti)].
The yellow brick road motif becomes an alternate stage as daydreamer Dorothy, clueless Scarecrow (Jaih Betote Dipito), heartless Tin Man (Michael Ureta) and geeky wimp Lionel (Corey Culverwell), along with a very bouncy Toto (Michael McNeish), embark on their journey to Oz — frequently dancing into the audience.
The classic fantasy of hope and desire, and discovering that the happiness you’re searching for lies within, translates perfectly into this urban fairytale that’s told through sparky, occasionally balletic hip hop dancing and B-boying (breakdancing).
The travellers arrive at Emerald City High, a preppy haven where they face the ultimate too cool for school Wizard (Steven Pascua). This bad boy has an awesome stage presence and a cheeky sense of humour. But it was his fierce dance moves that raised the roof.
The choreography (by artistic director Katie Prince) is flawless throughout, every movement telling a story or adding a new dimension to the characters.
Afterwards Ezra and I would debate who was better between Toto, Scarecrow and Tin Man — boys who leapt and back-flipped across the stage so casually that sometimes we forgot to clap. It’s hard to believe that these dancers are all between 10 and 19, members of Zoo Nation’s Youth Company.
The set bursts with colour and light and the music is an irresistible blend of hip hop and R&B grooves, along with hits from The Wiz soundtrack including Michael Jackson’s catchy Ease on Down the Road.
I identified strongly with Dorothy, the girl with her Afro puffs slicked back tight and her head in the clouds, who offers her teacher a poem instead of a maths sum. He tells her she’ll never get anywhere writing poetry, but at the end she reads that poem out as a declaration of creative freedom.
Groove on Down the Road is a hugely infectious, head-spinning, big-hearted production and a gorgeous tribute to the art of following your dreams. It made me want to sign my boys up for dance classes. It made me want to high five the stranger sitting next to me.
At the end, the audience didn’t so much give a standing ovation as literally jump for joy.
What are you waiting for? Follow that yellow brick road!
Groove on Down the Road, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, SE1 (Waterloo/Embankment tube). 2pm, 4pm, 7pm (varying dates); £10-£32/concs. half-price (limited availability) (Aug 10-Sep 1)