Review: The Wizard of Oz, Palladium

“And my head I’d be scratchin’ while my thoughts were busy hatchin’

I could have quite happily given The Wizard of Oz a miss, it wasn’t ever really on my list of shows to see but the combined news of a visit from a family member who wanted to see it and Hannah Waddingham’s imminent departure from the ensemble meant that I found myself there on a Saturday evening… There’s something a little odd about its choice as Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s third reality casting show, Over the Rainbow, as the show is not really a fully-fledged musical, no matter how famous some of the songs but he persevered nonetheless. What is even odder is his assembly of a strong musical theatre cast around the eventual winner, Danielle Hope, given the paucity of many of the roles around Dorothy.

Lloyd-Webber’s way around this has been to write new songs, with long-standing lyricist Tim Rice, to beef up the roles of characters like the Wizard and the Wicked Witch of the West and justify the casting of Michael Crawford and Hannah Waddingham respectively. But despite looking a picture with some tricksy staging and wirework, the end result is curiously banal, exceedingly bland and one which rarely excited me. The focus is so much on the stagecraft that the heart of the story is rarely engaged: Hope’s Dorothy is sweet but rarely interesting, there’s little of the ‘star quality’ evident this evening but then the role is not one that really encourages it; Michael Crawford made very little impact either as the Wizard or the cameos as Ozians and so it went, emotion taking second-place to spectacle.

At times the spectacle is grand: the projection work to simulate the cyclone is great, the sets of Oz shining and Waddingham’s flying as the wicked witch is huge fun, her main song is the only one of the newbies that really merits its place, and those that like animals are bound to fall for the charms of whichever dog is playing Toto. David Ganly’s Lion is warmly appealing and totally out which was a pleasant surprise but Paul Keating’s Scarecrow and Edward Baker-Duly’s Tin Man didn’t manage to quite transcend the production to produce similarly striking interpretations.

Part of the problem I think is that the film casts an extremely long shadow over any production of this story which in turn has perhaps encouraged the creative team to be a little bit free in their interpretation here. Forcing it into becoming a piece of grand musical theatre spectacle though has sucked some of the life out of the story itself, this makes for a rather soulless evening in the vast wide space of the Palladium.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 28th October 2012

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