The Wiz at West Yorkshire Playhouse

Wayne Robinson (Scarecrow), Horace Oliver (Tinman), Treyc Cohen (Dorothy) and Clive Rowe (Lion)
Wayne Robinson (Scarecrow), Horace Oliver (Tinman), Treyc Cohen (Dorothy) and Clive Rowe (Lion)
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WHEN Treyc Cohen was voted off last year’s X Factor she never contemplated becoming a star of musical theatre.

“I didn’t know what I thought or where I would go to be honest.” she says. “I just felt it would be best if I got myself out there and see what happens.

“I certainly didn’t feel bitter in any way, I was very grateful to have got as far as the live shows because it’s turned out to be a great launch pad for me.

“Though I must admit that, just a matter of months ago, I literally didn’t know where my career would launch to.”

The 27-year-old from the West Midlands wowed audiences on the TV show with her booming soulful voice, but it wasn’t enough to secure the required votes and continue in the competition.

“Do I feel I went out too early?” she ponders. “Not really, it’s just a reality TV talent contest at the end of the day, you know. I didn’t really feel like it was too much of a comment on my singing ability, thankfully.

“And things weren’t that bad for me ultimately because when you leave they hand you over to a management company who find you work and I had about 58 gigs lined up once I’d finished. So I can hardly complain.”

But one-off gigs weren’t quite enough for Treyc who’d watched the chance of a recording contract slip through her fingers.

Instead she saw the potential in musical theatre and was inspired by other X Factor contestants like Diana Vickers, who gained great West End acclaim starring in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and Niki Evans in the touring version of Blood Brothers.

As soon as Treyc made the conscious decision to pursue musical theatre she was actually headhunted for the lead role of Dorothy by the show’s choreographer, Paul J Medford. He’s a friend of Simon Cowell’s right hand woman Sinitta, who recommended Treyc be asked to audition.

“That was a massive confidence boost for me to be honest” admits Treyc. “And to be approached to audition for a musical that’s just a little bit different, as The Wiz is, was a real bonus.

“But I was also very nervous about the whole thing because I’d never done anything like a musical since I was at school.”

The Wiz is certainly a daunting prospect. The musical version premiered in 1975 and, three years later, was transformed into a movie starring none other than Michael Jackson and Diana Ross.

The starting point of the show is Frank L Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, but the story is given an urban twist, as Treyc says: “It’s basically a ‘Black Wizard of Oz’.

It features all the same characters, including Dorothy. “I must say I have quite surprised myself,” she laughs. “When I first started I worried about remembering lines, choreography, learning all the songs, everything. The fact that it was such a big show and I was playing the part that Diana Ross played in the movie made it really overwhelming.

“But I think I’ve actually taken to it rather well, I’ve loved it and I can definitely see me do more musical theatre in the future, assuming the right comes along for me.”

This latest production premiered in Birmingham last week and opens in Leeds next week – the perfect edgy production for West Yorkshire Playhouse.

“It’s set in inner city Birmingham rather than Kansas, and has an all-black cast,” says Treyc. “It’s all about Dorothy being lost and trying to find her way home and it stars all the characters you know, like the scarecrow, the lion, the wizard.

“But it’s quite a serious story. Although it’s an unusual twist on the classic it’s no joke. It’s quite an emotional and gripping journey that Dorothy takes.

“It’s just made that little bit different because of its attitude and the fact that it contains a lot of gospel and Motown music.”

This version of The Wiz also includes a volunteer community chorus of local performers from Leeds and Birmingham who will sing and dance alongside the professional cast.

The cast is first rate, with the likes of Clive Rowe playing The Lion. He was nominated for the 1993 Olivier Award for Best Supporting Performance in Carousel, and won the 1997 Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for Guys and Dolls. Rowe has also appeared in Chicago, Sister Act and even plays Duke in the long running children’s TV series, The Story of Tracey Beaker.

Appearing as The Scarecrow is Wayne Robinson’s who’s featured in the national tours of We Will Rock You, Hairspray and The Lion King in Paris.

“I still can’t believe I’m working with all these people in this amazing show and i still find it all a bit overwhelming and burst into tears now again,” she laughs.

“But it has given me the confidence to do more muscial theatre in the future. I’ve never been much of a person to make definite plans and hold my breath, but I think I would like to pursue a career on stage with one day having a recording career – I haven’t completely given up on that after X Factor.”

June 24 to July 16, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Quarry Hill, Leeds, 7.30pm, Sat mats 2pm, £16 to £26, Tel.0113 2137700

PARTNERSHIP: Rob Cowling and Paddy Sturman of Irwin Mitchell with Robin Hawkes of West Yorkshire Playhouse. Photo: Anthony Robling.

Five-year sponsorship deal for Leeds’s £14m West Yorksire Playhouse redevelopment