The Theatreguide.London Review
The Wizard of Oz
Palladium Spring 2011 - Summer 2012
This is a show that knows its audience and gives them exactly what they expect, no less and no more. That is its strength and that is its limitation.
Families and once-a-year theatregoers are guaranteed to have exactly the experience they want to have, with no surprises but with no special thrills. This is theatrical comfort food, expertly prepared, and designed to be unmemorable.
This new stage version of the 1939 film, generated by Andrew Lloyd Webber and directed by Jeremy Sams, follows its source scene for scene and almost line for line.
Lloyd Webber has reunited with Tim Rice to add five new songs to the Harold Arlen - E. Y. Harburg score but, except for a big new number for the Wicked Witch, the new material is mainly filler.
(We do occasionally hear Tim Rice at his playful best, with rhymes like plans/As - Kansas and humpback whale/A - Venezuela).
The production design is more than a bit disappointing, with the filmed impression of the tornado looking very much like the one they managed back in 1939 and the big scary image of the Wizard decidedly inferior to the original.
As Dorothy, Danielle Hope, who won the role in a TV competition, gives the kind of performance you might expect from a good understudy - pleasant, never less than competent, but lacking any star quality.
The audience applauds 'Over The Rainbow', but they're applauding the song and not her rendition, which is evidenced by the fact that none of her other numbers get the same reaction.
Michael Crawford saunters easily through the twinned roles of Professor Marvel and the Wizard, barely raising a sweat or offering much that anyone else couldn't bring to the role; you might not even notice that it's also him as the Oz doorman and tour guide.
What fresh theatrical excitement there is is generated by Hannah Waddingham as the Wicked Witch of the West, having fun with the panto-villain snarling and blasting her way through the one good new song, a very Broadway-ish 'Red Shoes Blues'.
Dorothy's friends also score pleasantly in their various ways, Paul Keating's loose-limbed Scarecrow, Edward Baker-Duly's suave (oily, perhaps?) Tin Man, and David Ganly's joke-cracking ('I'm proud to be a Friend of Dorothy') Lion.
As that last gag suggests, there are occasional moments when the revised script by Lloyd Webber and Sams tries to have it both ways, archly and ironically distancing themselves from the material while also playing it straight.
Those jokes - Glinda and the Tin Man have some as well - almost always fall flat, perhaps because the audience isn't on the same ironic wavelength.
If you know someone who is not a theatregoer and is a bit afraid of trying something new, or if you have to find something for kids who have already seen The Lion King, this is the perfect show for them.
If you want more, if you want something that has been adapted to the stage in inventive ways or something that has a life of its own that isn't just borrowed from its source, you will have to look elsewhere.
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