For those of a certain age, the story of The Wizard of Oz is indelibly etched in the mind as an iconic fantasy film (now 73 years old, yet still timeless), where a monochrome Dorothy discovers life isn’t so bad after all having visited a colourful dream world and confronting her fears through meeting a wide variety of characters – well, that’s my précis. It evokes memories of an innocent childhood when the lines between reality and fantasy are blurred. Therefore, surely a stage musical of this wonderful story created by L Frank Baum would be an equally memorable experience, which was the case, but not for the right reasons.
Of course, a stage version is never going to be able to replicate a medium where anything can be visually represented, but shouldn’t the spectacle of it happening in front of one’s eyes be just as exciting? Well, yes, and from the technical point of view it is. There is novel use of the London Palladium’s famous revolve (now a common feature in many theatres) as the never-ending yellow brick road, with various sets and locations popping up through the centre section and a simple yet effective sepia-set piece representing Kansas bookending the journey to Oz. A gauze onto which projections are displayed worked very well for the digitally enhanced tornado sequence, superimposing the live action, and predictably all of the colours of the rainbow feed the eyes with very bright functional sets and delightful costumes (notably the three companions; scarecrow, tin man and lion).
However, none of this was enough to make the production particularly enjoyable. In the title role, yet another shameless example of a ‘non-actor celebrity’ being cast; in this instance, Des O’Connor. Yes, he can sing to a fashion and is a veteran Palladium performer, but with what can only be described as awful diction and a lame attempt at an accent, he still stumbled over the odd line (a month into his run) and was unable to engage convincingly with his fellow actors. This inappropriate choice was embarrassing to watch despite him having some natural grandpaternal charm… or was it smarm? I wasn’t sure to be honest.
Sophie Evans (runner up in the TV reality programme) playing the pivotal role Dorothy was pleasant enough, but I felt she was largely unenthused. This is still her first professional role, but she already seemed to be on auto-pilot. I suppose the dog has to be mentioned. The collective “ahhhhhhh” from the audience as Toto runs on drowned out a few seconds of dialogue. The dog seemingly had more energy and stage presence than our two leads!
A special mention must go to Marianne Benedict who played Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch of the West. For me, she made this production vibrant. Clearly relishing the ‘baddie’ role, she effortlessly flew around the stage and through the roof, hovering above the Stalls with due menace. She has a tight, shrill voice, but sings beautifully too, and the song with her cronies is, in my mind, the ultimate showstopper.
Likewise, the trio of Dorothy’s companians shine in their own right on their journey to Oz and beyond. They all have excellent comic timing, but Tin Man Edward Baker-Duly’s rich bass voice was gorgeous, Scarecrow Paul Keating’s boundless energy a joy to watch and Lion Martin Callaghan’s deliberately camp portrayal of the obviously gay Lion grabbed all of the best one-liners. I could have sworn it was Simon Russell-Beale in a cat costume.
The ensemble worked hard to fill the stage with some great choreography (by Arlene Phillips) and keep the pace of the show tight, whereas the dialogue scenes drag to the point of tedium. All in all though, a disappointing production which should be rectified by director Jeremy Sams sooner rather than later, otherwise it won’t only be the Wicked Witch melting into the earth.
Name of Show: The Wizard Of Oz
Book: L Frank Baum
Composer/Music: Harold Arlen with additional by Andrew Lloyd-Webber
Lyrics: E Y Harburg with additional by Tim Rice
Premiered: 1 March 2011 (London Palladium)
This Production Opened: 1 March 2011
Tweet: Dorothy resolves her fears and aspirations through a colourful character-filled dream.
Synopsis: Dorothy Gale, a rural Kansas girl feels no-one understands her and decides to run away with her dog, Toto. Professor Marvel, whom she meets along the way, advises her that home is the best place. On her return, a tornado forces the family underground, but Dorothy gets knocked out and transported into a dream world where, having accidentally killed a witch and inheriting her ruby slippers, some colourful characters accompany her on the way to see The Wizard who can help her get back home and avoid the wrath of the witch's sister, the Wicked Witch of the West. Having completed the task of acquiring her broomstick, The Wizard promises to return Dorothy home to Kansas, but Toto escapes, leaving Dorothy stranded. When she does make it back home eventually thanks to the help of Glinda, the good witch of the North, she tells her family all about it as if it was real…and she has the ruby slippers to prove it!
- When the Wicked Witch of the West is killed by a splash of water and disintegrates into the ground.
Why See It: It contains one of the most enduring song standards of all time - “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” - and is very colourful, with some lovely sets, costumes and choreography. Worth seeing for the Wicked Witch of the West's flying through the auditorium alone and performing the song specially written for the musical. It's a feel-good story and is reminiscent of a youthful innocence when the line between reality and fantasy was blurred enough to be able to believe that anything can happen.
Caveat: The shameless 'celebrity' casting of Des O'Connor as the Wizard is embarrassing to endure and Sophie Evans as Dorothy is not quite up to scratch yet, giving a lacklustre performance.
- Four West Highland Terrier dogs alternate in the role of Toto.
- The role of Dorothy was cast through the reality TV show "Over the Rainbow", in which current performer Sophie Evans was the runner up.
'We're off to see. ' The most magical adventure of them all. Follow the yellow brick road over the rainbow and into The London Palladium, the capital's home of the family musical. Starring Des O'Connor as The Wizard and Sophie Evans (BBC's smash hit Over The Rainbow) as Dorothy. Andrew Lloyd Webber's new production of The Wizard of Oz is an enchanting adaptation of the all time classic, totally reconceived for the stage by the award-winning creative team that delighted audiences of all ages with their recent London Palladium revival of The Sound of Music. Developed from the ever popular MGM screenplay this new production contains all the much-loved songs from the Oscar winning movie score, all the favourite characters and iconic moments, plus a few surprises along the way, including new songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Click your heels together and join Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, Dorothy and her little dog Toto, as they journey through the magical land of Oz to meet the Wizard and obtain their heart's desires. Watch out for the Wicked Witch of the West and her winged monkeys as you rediscover the real story of Oz in this fantastic musical treat for all the family. PLEASE NOTE: Due to the high stage, stalls rows A and B are not suitable for children. Side stalls may be restricted view.
London PalladiumArgyll Street
London Greater London United Kingdom W1F 7TF
Duration: 2 hours 45 minutes
Edward Baker Duly, David Ganly, Paul Keating, Sophie Evans © Keith Pattison
Scarecrow (Paul Keating) © Keith Pattison
Emerald City © Keith Pattison