Theatre Review: The Wizard of Oz

There’s gold at the end of the rainbow for Andrew Lloyd Webber in his cheery, cheeky and fun-filled new production of THE WIZARD OF OZ. But is it all just a bit superficial?

THERE has always been a question mark hanging over the winners of Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber’s previous “search for a musical star” TV extravanganzas… we know they can sing, but can they act?

In the case of Danielle Hope, who won the role of Dorothy in this much-hyped new production, the answer is a tentative yes. But I had to resist the temptation to shout from my seat in the stall: “Oh, yes she can!” – because there’s more than touch of panto in Lloyd Webber’s reworking of the 1900 classic L Frank Baum fairytale.

It’s a cheery, cheeky, fun-filled show full of colour, special effects and booing and hissing… but you can’t help thinking that it’s all just a bit superficial. The tornado is cleverly projected around the theatre so that the audience feels sucked in as well – but from then on we are merely observers, and not companions, on Dorothy’s journey.

Hope’s Dorothy strides purposefully along a revolving yellow brick road towards a dazzling, technicolour Emerald City. Her companions Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion, are slapstick figures but not particularly engaging.

Just as disappointing is Michael Crawford – a star name, but not a stellar performance as the professor and wizard himself.

The singing is strong, the dancing good and the music well handled. But the cast plaudits must go to Hannah Waddingham, the delightfully scary Wicked Witch of the West, who gets the audience hissing and steals the second half with her energetic rendition of one of the show’s new numbers, added by Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

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None of the criticism ultimately matters of course. Audiences will still come to enjoy a great spectacle… and for Lloyd Webber, there’s guaranteed gold at the end of this rainbow.

* Showing at The London Palladium in Argyll Street, W1.