Whatever else can be said of them, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s casting shows certainly have the power to attract a good audience. Over the Rainbow, the BBC’s search for Dorothy, has nearly seven million views in its final episode, and advance sales for the musical itself peaked at over ten million. They appeal, to use that horrible phrase, to the masses.
Well, the masses may have a point. The Wizard of Oz is in many ways a triumph: visually stunning, its set and costume design (Robert Jones) make Oz vivid and memorable not just against dull, sepia Kansas, but even the real, full-spectrum world. The light-up, rotating yellow brick road and scenery popping up from within it are delightful. In fact, the whole show has a certain excitement, a certain razzle dazzle (helped, I’m sure, by the glamorous Toto cast: Bobby, Dazzle, Topper and Razzmatazz).
Danielle Hope, despite her relative lack of experience, makes a charismatic, believable Dorothy with a good stage presence. Judy Garland is a hard act to follow, but this young actress may yet be remembered as the stage Dorothy. Crawford is a kindly, sincere Mr Marvel, and Hannah Waddingham is deliciously unhinged and cruel as the Wicked Witch of the West.
The only problem with this production is that the script allows for very little character or emotional development. Hope, despite her best efforts, struggles to create pathos with the bland, earnest lines, and all too frequently her entourage are given gags that fall completely flat.
Despite the talent and energy of the actors, and the colour and razzmatazz of the scenery, The Wizard of Oz fails to reach its potential by denying the characters any deeper level of meaning or conflict. Which makes the whole revolving-yellow-brick-road situation, well, a bit like walking in circles.
The Wizard of Oz is currently playing in the West End at the London Palladium. For information and to book tickets see its official website here.