The Wizard of Oz: The London Palladium
11:38am Friday 6th May 2011
By Christopher Gray »
A packed house at the London Palladium gave a standing ovation to Sophie Evans at the end of her sensational debut as Dorothy in the hugely enjoyable production of The Wizard of Oz. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, who produces the show with Bill Kenwright, arrived on stage beaming from ear to ear to present a bouquet to the young star, an actress and singer of the greatest accomplishment.
Sophie was the runner-up in Lord Lloyd-Webber’s BBC1 show Over the Rainbow, which was designed to find a star for the production. She now takes over as Dorothy every Tuesday evening and whenever the winner, Danielle Hope, is unavailable. Such is her success in the role that it would be hard to imagine anyone could consider they were getting second-best.
The production, directed by Jeremy Sams, offers all the colour and glamour expected of a big-budget musical. Commendably, it does full justice at last to a stage show often overlooked in favour of the iconic 1939 film version starring Judy Garland. Fans of this will find all their favourite sequences replicated, with additional music and words added to Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg’s original score by Lloyd Webber and — in a welcome reunion — lyricist Tim Rice.
There are spectacular special effects, none more eye-popping, perhaps, than the whirlwind that transports Dorothy and her Kansas homestead to the Land of Oz. There she meets and befriends first the delightful Munchkins, pictured above, and later the brainless Scarecrow (Paul Keating), the stiff-jointed Tin Man (Edward Baker-Duly) and the Cowardly Lion (David Ganly).
To the last is given many of the show’s funniest lines, some of them in a distinctly modern vein. Thus he tells the audience: “The lion sleeps tonight”, before a mention of “the lion in winter” and the announcement that he’s “a friend of Dorothy”, well understood as a coded expression for gay.
The hugely popular Michael Crawford brings all his authority and good humour to the role of the Wizard. This much-feared figure turns out to be — as it’s said — a “humbug”, a word recalling the star’s celebrated stage role as the American showman P.T. Barnum. Fans might regret that the script gives Crawford too little to do, but what he does is carried off with his usual panache.
All the songs and music are superbly performed under the tight control of musical director Graham Hurman.
All in all, it’s a delight not to be missed.