Front Row Review: The Wizard of Oz

Date Posted: 16/04/2011

Rob Yandell followed the yellow brick road, but what did he find at the end of the rainbow?

First of all, let me admit that I didn’t watch a single episode of the BBC’s Over the Rainbow, which was won by Danielle Hope; catapulting the young hopeful to star alongside Michael Crawford at the London Palladium. Dreams obviously do come true.

For me, thinking about The Wizard of Oz conjures up images of a Christmas TV schedule; it’s the classic story we all know, so why go and see it on the West End stage? There is no arguing the quality of the names behind the production: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Bill Kenwright, Tim Rice and Arlene Philips, with Jeremy Sams directing. An additional score and new songs add to the familiar tunes from the much-loved motion picture, starring Judy Garland.

As the curtain raised, the ‘ahhhs’ from the audience greeted Toto as he scurried onto the stage. But wasn’t the dog black in the film? I was making comparisons already as our white haired friend said hello. In fact, the dogs used for the show are simply marvellous; to have a live animal must be difficult, but the cast and crew appear to have it all under control. There are plenty of treats in hand no doubt.

Of course, we are firstly introduced to the plains of Kansas, although it took a good ten minutes until we got a song – Over the Rainbow sang beautifully by Danielle Hope, starring as Dorothy. Danielle played a great part throughout and it was easy to forget The Wizard of Oz sees her make her professional debut performance. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Danielle treading the boards as a leading lady for many years to come; she made her character both likeable and believable.

Michael Crawford is one of the world’s leading names and his presence when he walks on stage is still impressive. Firstly as Professor Marvel and latterly as the Wizard of Oz, Michael is as accomplished as ever. Warmly received by the audience, Michael is at home on a West End stage and delivered the type of polished performance you would expect.

I vividly recall our first introduction to the Wicked Witch of the West in the film; she sent shivers down my spine as a child, so I eagerly awaited her arrival as we watched Dorothy’s introduction to Oz, Glinda and the Munchkins. Enter the green-faced Hannah Waddingham with big set of pearly whites; but wait, where’s the pointy hat? It turns out, disappointingly, that the evil witch is more panto and as the show progressed, the booing and hissing became more noticeable. Not that Hannah doesn’t put in an enjoyable performance. I found the audience warmed to her throughout, but is that supposed to happen? She certainly steals the show in my opinion.

David Ganly as the cowardly Lion gets funnier as the story unfolds, while Paul Keating as Scarecrow and Edward Baker-Duly as Tin Man put in performances that neither delight or disappoint.

As for the wow factor, there isn’t any. The sets used as we followed the yellow brick road, meeting Tin Man, Lion and Scarecrow along the way, became a little monotonous.

The house being launched by the tornado is impressive but I expected to be blown away by a cocktail of colour – it simply didn’t happen. The magic that I looked for was in short supply which I found surprising and disappointing. The humour improved in act two, which was needed, with some of the dialogue in the early scenes failing to capture me.

A number of people in the know have suggested The Wizard of Oz will have a two-year shelf life and I cannot see it extending once the Over the Rainbow effect has faded. We try to give a balanced view in Group Leisure. I’m not a fan of critics whose favourite time of day is looking in the mirror, closely followed by seeing their panning of the latest opening in print. The trouble is I personally didn’t find the show hit the spot. In fact, I found it pretty average.

It did get a (semi) standing ovation, although was that for the dog? I suggest going to see Wicked instead.

The Wizard of Oz is now on at the London Palladium and booking until 28th October with discounts for groups of ten or more people. Performance times are Tuesdays at 7pm (Over the Rainbow runner-up, Sophie Evans plays the part of Dorothy at all of these performances), Wednesday to Saturday evenings at 7.30pm, with matinees on a Wednesday at 2.30pm and Sunday at 3pm.

Photo credit: Keith Pattison


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