By Ray Bennett
LONDON – If ever a show was pre-sold it’s the new stage version of The Wizard of Oz with the 1939 movie a perennial favorite and Danielle Hope cast as Dorothy via a 10-week prime time BBC-TV reality show but it really does 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 with 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, whose biggest success together was 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 Waddington 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 mid-point curtain closer “Bring Me the Broomstick.”
Hope, who won the TV casting competition, has color and warmth in her voice and she delivers “Over the Rainbow” with control and without melodrama. She appears confident and mimics successfully Judy Garland’s stride on the stage treadmill that is the yellow brick road even if she lacks the original star’s wistful charm and vulnerability.
She is 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, but declines to show any interest in the malarkey of walking on any treadmill.
Crawford displays his skill as a master showman in what are quite bief appearances, as in the film, and Waddingham rides her broomstick with relish, flying high above the crowd looking exactly like Margaret Hamilton in the film.
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 good 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 takes the breath away is the wonderful design. The film starts off in black-and-white and then bursts into vivid color, and so does the stage show. 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 marvellous panache. The Wicked Witch’s lair resembles Mad Max’s Thunderdome with fascistic soldiers marching with masks and weapons while the Emerald City glows with every green imaginable and the Wizard’s Chamber is like a daunting Gotham skyscraper.
Venue: London Palladium, UK (running through Jan. 15 2012); 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
This review appeared in The Hollywood Reporter.