Theatre Review - 'The Wizard of Oz'

Posted by Alexander Hay

How do you reinvent a classic 1939 MGM musical for the 21st century?

Hannah Waddingham's Wicked Witch just prior to some serious housework

This was the problem facing Andrew Lloyd Webber in staging his eagerly awaited new production of The Wizard of Oz (London Palladium), directed by Jeremy Sams, which reunites the creative team behind his 2006 interpretation of The Sound of Music. The answer is simple: stay close to the spirit of the original while adding a renewed sense of excitement and wonder.

Based on a best selling book by Frank L Baum, the story centres on Kansas farm girl Dorothy who, when a mean spirited female neighbour accuses her beloved dog Toto of biting her and plans to take legal action to get the animal put down, runs away from her aunt and uncle with Toto. A sudden tornado whisks them away to the enchanted land of Oz, a place where the heart, mind and courage merge and guide us through life's adventures and where Dorothy must face danger, learn to trust in new friends, unmask fake power and rediscover her love for a home she once considered drab.

This is a large, lavish show but also an intimate, involving one with a memorable, timeless score including one of the best songs of the past century, 'Over The Rainbow', (interestingly, they wanted to cut this out of the original film), as well as four songs and several more fresh tunes which augment Harold Arlen's score and Ey Harburg's words.

The diving line between film and theatre isd blurred here die to the narrative fluency, brisk pace, realistic sets, revolving stage and witty and inventive effects – from the furious cyclone that seems to engulf the audience and transports us to Oz and the Gothic palace of the Wicked Witch and her totalitarian helmeted guards to the recreation of the Yellow Brick Road, the poppy fields and labyrinthine forest, not forgetting the way the Wicked Witch and her sinister winged monkeys fly over the audience's heads. Full praise must be given to Arlene Phillips' vivacious choreography and Robert Jones' eye opening costumes and sets which admirably conjure up the sepia world of Kansas and the garish colours of Oz.

Danielle Hope, winner of BBC Television's talent show Over The Rainbow, in her first professional stage role, makes a winning impression here as Dorothy, conveying her innocence, vulnerability and determination, Michael Crawford, playing both the eccentric Professor Marvel and the Wizard of the title, brings a combination of warmth and charisma to the roles, while Hannah Waddingham makes a splendidly malevolent Wicked Witch. I was also much taken with Paul Keating as the Scarecrow who longs for a brain, Edward Baker-Duly as the Tin Man who longs for a heart, and David Ganly as the Lion, seeking courage to combat the Wicked Witch.

This then is a truly marvellous show, completely devoid of sentimentality, and capturing the magic of Oz for a whole new generation.

Box Office: 0844 412 2957

Press: Target Live 0203 373 0955

By Laurence Green

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Alexander Hay

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