Review: Wizard of Oz, London Palladium

The Wizard of Oz London Palladium HHHII

LLOYD WEBBER’S spectacular staging of the well-loved MGM movie will tick all the boxes for fans of the 1939 film and undoubtedly be a hit.

But oh my, the characterisation, songs and emotions are as slight as the scarecrow’s straw arms, as hollow as the tin man’s chest.

L Frank Baum may have written the original source material as a metaphor for America’s currency issues (yes really!) but here the story is a simplistic children’s fable about honesty versus fakery, home versus away and the power of self-realisation.

Kids, like my six-year-old, will gorge on its sugary treats, the technicolour palette, hummable ditties and good versus evil plotline.

For grown-ups, there’s the lush orchestration of Hollywood’s golden era, eye-catching evocative sets and costumes from Robert Jones, and full company hoofing choreographed by Arlene Phillips.

With the notable exception of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, which arrives punishingly early in proceedings, Arlen and Harburg’s witless lyrics and simple tunes are rather exposed by being transplanted from a film with a few songs into a full-blown stage musical.

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Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice flesh out the score, notably with the superior Red Shoes Blues, thunderingly delivered in a bravura performance by Hannah Waddingham as the splendidly wicked witch of the west.

Talent show winner Danielle Hope makes a clear-eyed, clear-voiced Dorothy, accompanied by a well-trained Westie as Toto. She does a slick imitation of Garland’s breathless innocence, without capturing the warmth and vulnerability she brought to the role. I’m not convinced a star is born.

And veteran musical theatre performer Michael Crawford clearly isn’t back to strength either vocally or physically as the Wizard/Professor Marvel, which might explain why he has so little to do.

The jaunty trio of tin man, cowardly lion and scarecrow inject much-needed humour into proceedings and you can only gape at the production’s polished professionalism and technical adroitness – as the witch flies over the audience and glittering art deco sets descend for the Emerald City.

Until further notice.