While there is a good deal to recommend about this much-anticipated production at the newly refurbished Palladium - once again boosted by the now familiar process of TV auditioning - I could not help but imagine director Jeremy Sams himself knocking on the doors of Emerald City to ask the great Oz what ingredients would turn his okay show into a great one. How about a big injection of energy and a dose of feeling (or ‘heart’ as the Tin Man puts it), the magical one might answer. And he would be right.
Danielle Hope (Dorothy), Edward Baker-Duly (The Tin Man), David Ganly (The Lion), Michael Crawford (The Wizard) and Paul Keating(The Scarecrow) in The Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium Photo: Nigel Norrington
On a positive note, there are times when Robert Jones’ sets and costumes, along with the work of projection designer Jon Driscoll, create some visual treats, although ironically it is the opening sepia-toned tornado scene, rather than the flying monkeys or predictable overdose of green in Emerald City, that turns out to be the most effective. Impressive set changes do not a story make though, and the reinstated double revolving stage also limits narrative flow, staging and choreography.
It is really in Act II that the piece starts to come alive. This is partly due to the class act that is Hannah Waddingham’s Wicked Witch of the West, whether she is flying in from all directions or making a showstopper of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s new song Red Shoes Blues.
The later stages of the evening is also when the chemistry between Edward Baker-Duly (Tin Man), David Ganly (Lion), Paul Keating (Scarecrow), Danielle Hope’s Dorothy and the show-stealing Toto begins to gel. Having been thrust into the limelight after winning the BBC show Over the Rainbow, Hope holds her own, adding a toughness to the vulnerability of her role. Elsewhere Michael Crawford is a welcome presence, even if he only appears for a series of cameos.
Within a piece that has always been difficult to adapt for the stage, a good number of witty libretto and score changes are genuine improvements, with the ending turning out to be a real goosebumps moment. Whether this will be enough to ensure Dorothy and friends become a long-term fixture in the West End is another question altogether.