The Wizard of Oz: Theater Review

Keith Pattison
Hail, hail … Dorothy and the Wizard are alive and well in a dazzling new stage musical.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and director Jeremy Sams adapted the dazzling musical starring Danielle Hope, who won a contest for her role as Dorothy.

LONDON — If ever a show was presold, it’s the new stage version of The Wizard of Oz, with the 1939 movie a perennial favorite and Danielle Hope cast as Dorothy thanks to winning a 10-week primetime BBC reality show. It does, however, really deliver.

Audiences might hum the film’s indelible tunes on the way into the London Palladium, but when they leave, they will be buzzing about the extraordinary sets and costumes that Robert Jones has created for Dorothy’s adventures on the yellow brick road.

The show features all the original songs by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, plus four new numbers by Tim Rice and producer Andrew Lloyd Webber, who adapted the show with director Jeremy Sams.

The film was more an adventure with songs than an outright musical, so Rice and Lloyd Webber, who had much success with Evita, have filled in the gaps quite sensibly.

They have provided “Nobody Understands Me” as a scene-setter at the start for Dorothy and “Red Shoes Blues,” a rousing show-stopper for Hannah Waddingham as the Wicked Witch of the West, plus two songs for star Michael Crawford, renowned for the title role in Lloyd Webber’s stage hit Phantom of the Opera.

As Professor Marvel, he tries to get Dorothy to stay at home before the storm breaks with the jaunty “Wonders of the World,” and as the Wizard he chants the dramatic midpoint curtain-closer “Bring Me the Broomstick.”

Hope, who won the TV casting competition, has color and warmth in her voice and delivers “Over the Rainbow” with control and without melodrama. Even if she lacks Judy Garland’s wistful charm and vulnerability, she appears confident and mimics successfully the original star’s stride on the stage treadmill that is the yellow brick road. She’s not helped by an adorable scene-stealing Toto, one of four white West Highland terriers that rotate in the role, who remains calm amid flashing lights and sudden bangs and barks at the Wizard on cue. The pooch, though, declines to show any interest in the malarkey of walking on any treadmill.

Crawford displays his skill as a master showman in what are brief appearances (as in the film), and Waddingham rides her broomstick with relish, flying high above the crowd looking exactly like Margaret Hamilton.

Edward Baker-Duly as the Tin Man, David Ganly as the Cowardly Lion and Paul Keating as the Scarecrow go to school on their film counterparts with fine movement and comic timing. Emily Tierney makes her beautiful Good Witch Glinda pleasingly droll, and there’s a talented bunch of children playing the Munchkins.

It’s all tuneful and entertaining, but what really takes your breath away is the wonderful design. Just like the film, the stage show starts off in black-and-white and then bursts into vivid color. Everything is dull and khaki in Kansas, and the video sequence created by Jon Driscoll that shows the tornado is wonderfully out of this world. Once Dorothy hits the road to Oz, everything is bright and dazzling, with looming sets inspired by Metropolis brought up from below the Palladium’s stage with panache.

The Wicked Witch’s lair resembles Mad Max’s Thunderdome with fascistic soldiers marching with masks and weapons, the Emerald City glows with every green imaginable, and the Wizard’s chamber is like a daunting Gotham skyscraper.

The whole thing is a feast for the eyes.

Venue: London Palladium (running through Sept. 17)
Cast: Michael Crawford, Danielle Hope, Hannah Waddingham, Edward Baker-Duly, David Ganly, Paul Keating, Emily Tierney
Music: Harold Arlen, Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: E.Y. Harburg, Tim Rice
Adapted by: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jeremy Sams
Director: Jeremy Sams
Set and costume designer: Robert Jones
Musical director: Graham Hurman
Orchestrations: David Cullen
Projection designer: Jon Driscoll
Lighting designer: Hugh Vanstone
Sound designer: Mick Potter
Choreography: Arlene Phillips