Review: The Wizard of Oz – London Palladium ***

At the heart of The Wizard of Oz is a story of juvenile self-discovery, of friendship, love, loyalty and a sense that the biggest adventures are usually those where we learn the simplest lessons.

In this sense, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Palladium lollapalooza has its heart in the right place, but is so weighed down by effects and adornments that it has lost sight of the story in serving the extravagance.

Danielle Hope, as Dorothy, exorcises any notion that she was the most somber of the final ten on the reality TV show, Over the Rainbow, where she won the role which has cast her into the spotlight.  She delivers a perfectly serviceable performance which errs on the side of perky rather than poignant.  We have all of Dorothy’s effervescence and niceness but none of her vulnerability or gumption.  Her vocal is beautifully pure and wholesome, particularly in Over The Rainbow, and over time one hopes her performance will discover the layers and nuances of the role.

Waddingham’s performance is a show-stopper that delights and terrifies in equal measure

The technicolour triumvirate of David Ganly’s Lion, Paul Keating’s Scarecrow and Edward Baker-Duly’s Tin Man offer beautifully sung performances, but they never really catch fire, missing the vaudevillian aspect of the roles, and lacking a dynamic group charisma.  Emily Tierney, as Glinda, in a dazzling holographic gown, finds a bite and sass in her role while Michael Crawford, as the Wizard, feels shipped in to bestow gravitas and a star name.  His much feted appearance is marred by a thankless role and pedestrian material.  His new song, The Wonders of the World, is a charming but effectively pointless ‘list’ song.  On the whole, none of the new material really shines, the opening number ‘Nobody Understands Me’ is perfunctory, but Crawford catches by far the worst number, in ‘Bring Me The Broomstick’  merely repeating the same phrase over and over.  Thankfully, no lyricist is credited with this number. Only ‘Red Shoes Blues’ really takes off, a witty, sexy partnering of music and lyrics that gives Hannah Waddingham, as the Witch of the West, the real stand-out song and reminds us of what wit lyricist Tim Rice is capable of.  Waddingham’s performance is a show-stopper, a glorious, spitting, cackling energy that delights and terrifies in equal measure.

The comedy of the script is forced somewhat, many of the jokes fall flat, and the biggest laugh of the night is reserved for Toto in a jacket.  The orchestrations are efficient rather than lush and the ensemble feels too small for the bustling Emerald City, let alone the cavernous Palladium stage.  Arlene Phillips choreography is, as always, a delight, but there is too little of it for such a large scale musical.

The Wizard of Oz is a quintessentially American show, but this production has a curiously British feel to it.  Robert Jones’ delightful, inventive set feels like an homage to Victorian penny arcade machines, twisting and contracting to reveal each new scene. In comparison to the technical wizardry of the set, many of the other effects feel dated and trite.  On the whole it is the pervading air of restraint and reserve in all the performances that is the most telling British aspect of the production.  For all the spectacle, there is precious little soul.

*** (3 stars)
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