Review – The Wizard of Oz, London Palladium

Friday 25 February 2011

Featuring TV’s Danielle Hope as Dorothy and Bill Kenwright as the Harbinger of Doom.

We were astonished to read that co-producer Mister Bill Kenwright had been treading the Palladium boards as warm-up man for Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s new production of The Wizard of Oz. Frankly, it seemed unlikely.

But it is true.

It was true on Tuesday evening, anyway. There he was, reminiscing about Sunday Night at the London Palladium, talking up the quality of the orchestra, the beauty of the sets and the “zillions” (which must mean TWOO has now outstripped Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark as the most expensive musical of all time) spent on the double stage revolve.

Stopping just short of slapping a thigh he encouraged the crowd to sing along, clap, cheer, scream and boo the wicked witch before casually dropping in the fact that Michael Crawford wouldn’t actually be giving his wonderful Wizard or his Professor Marvel. Or his Emerald City doorman, come to that. It’s times like this make you wish for the simple white slip poking out of your programme.

The cause? Not mere laryngitis but “blood on his nodules”, apparently – a medical detail that perhaps unsurprisingly failed to whip the crowd much further into the desired state of frenzy but which did cause the Whingers to kick themselves for not packing the WEW Patent Rectal Thermometer.

An economically monickered understudy called “Zeph” (usually “Munchkin Mayor/Ensemble”) would be stepping into Mister Crawford’s beret.

Poor Zeph. Armed only with ill-fitting costumes, a reluctant-looking wig, the book and an expression of panic on his face, he gamely soldiered through in the thankless role of “Michael Crawford’s Understudy” – less Dorothy’s dream, more actor’s nightmare. But in the last analysis surely only a monster could blame him for being unable to recall the tunes and the lyrics of the first act number with which Mister Andrew Lloyd Webber and Mister Tim Rice have saddled him – a list song called “The Wonders Of The World” .

But anyway, as Mister Kenwright had reminded the audience, this was a preview – news which, for the record, was met mostly with a mystified silence by Joe and Joanne Public and their noisily confectioned offspring Jocasta and Jonathon who were all just here to see that girl off the telly in the sequel to Wicked.

And goodness but it’s difficult to stop the unwanted memories of Wicked from flooding back, not least when confronted with Glinda’s (Emily Tierney) gravity-defying entrance frock or the visual styling of the inhabitants of the Emerald City as they fanny around the stage courtesy of Arlene Phillips‘ choreography.

Hannah Waddingham – currently cornering the somewhat niche musical theatre witch market – is, as expected, a terrific Wicked Witch of the West who put Phil in mind of Bette Midler in Hocus Pocus. For some reason she here dwells in some sort of facisitic Eastern European speakeasy, but at least her guards will keep be able to keep her plumbing ticking over nicely. Hats off to her (not that she wears one) for descending through the Palladium roof on a broomstick. Phil would have screamed “She’s above you” if his vertigo vapours hadn’t been kicking in so violently.

Also flying above the audience’s heads were one or two gags including one about being proud to be a “friend of Dorothy” and a surprisingly highbrow one about The Lion in Winter.

Back on the ground, Paul Keating‘s status as Yet-Another-WEW-Favourite remains untarnished with his amiable, seemingly limbless Scarecrow and David Ganly‘s Lion has a wonderful tail although thanks to his mane and make-up Andrew couldn’t stop thinking of Tim Minchin whenever he appeared. Edward Baker-Duly (Ashley Wilkes in Trevor Nunn’s Gone With The Wind – The Musical! and von Ribbentrop in the recent Upstairs, Downstairs revival) turns out to have a rather fine gift for comedy and gives a particularly good Tin Man. He would probably, albeit jerkily, walk away with the show if it weren’t for the star, of whom more later.

It will perhaps comes as no surprise that the Whingers were unmoved by the new songs which have been written to fill in the gaps left by Harold Arlen and E. Y. (Yip) Harburg in the original. You can understand why they felt the need to try – as a musical The Wizard of Oz is rather eccentric and severely hampered by the fact that the closest thing the show has to an Eleven O’Clock Number (“Somewhere Over The Rainbow”) would normally be delivered at about ten past seven (Tuesday performances begin at 7pm) or twenty past seven if Mister K has been bigging things up and making balloon sculptures to entertain the crowds. As far as we were concerned the Wizard’s “Bring Me the Broomstick” could have neatly been replaced by “Buy-A-Broom” which if nothing else would have brought the dragging second act to a brisker conclusion.

TV (Over the Rainbow)-cast Miss Hope acquits herself quite well in the role of chief dog wrangler and the show has moments of visual interest: “beautiful” sets (by Robert Jones) twirl, rise and drop expensively as promised (although it was the projection of the tornado which rather mysteriously earned applause), monkeys fly, pyrotechnics pyrotech but when the star of the show was on stage we barely noticed.

Yes, Toto (Bobby, Razzamatazz, Dazzle or Topper) was fantastic. They say you should never work with animals or children (a maxim which must be awkward to live by if you are a petting zoo-keeper) and here is an object lesson of why that is: Toto – on stage practically all the time – was marvellously, completely unfazed by the drama or spectacle going on around him but was instead fascinated by the odd smell on a floorboard or a glimpse of something in the wings. Toto’s honesty showed up everything going on around him as the fragile tissue of lies on which theatre is built.

Perhaps, in retrospect, they should have crossed the fine line they were occasionally treading anyway and gone a little more panto by employing a man in a dog suit. And while they are at it some real water in the bucket that Dorothy throws over the witch would have made for a decent slosh scene, something criminally lacking in most other pantos we have seen recently.

Mister Zeph’s final indignity was to take the penultimate curtain call and we found ourselves very much rooting for him which was something of a revelation because the Whingers had come to the London Palladium believing themselves to be devoid of hearts and brains and courage (and any liver worthy of the name).

But it turns out we must have had hearts all along. Isn’t that nice?



17 Responses to “Review – The Wizard of Oz, London Palladium”

  1. Fantastic review, Wews. Zeph with a book sounds like the bloke from the chorus regularly stepping into Joan Collins’ shoes in Brum not so long ago. I love the idea that Toto could be an ironic observer of the overthetop proceedings – an Everydog bystander satirically commenting to himself in canine language on the sidelines. Haven’t booked for this, no doubt it will be several years before we see it then.

  2. Tom Says:

    Main problem for WOZ is its over-familiarity. Best moment in Prisoner Of Second Avenue was at end of Act One when Jeff Goldblum was doused with full bucket of Real Water.

  3. ChrisM Says:

    Love Hannah Waddingham, but does she get any decent songs in this? she has such a wonderful voice, I bet she is wasted here.

  4. rolly Says:

    love your review – i did see Michael but sort of wish I had an u/s!! went last night and was rather underwhelmed!

  5. Me Says:

    You seem to have enjoyed it more than me….I simply couldn’t engage in ‘Following The Yellow Brick Polo-Mint’. I was truly baffled by the tornado, or more precisely as to why the house should end up floating between the Earth and the Moon, before being hit by a passing meteorite and sent, silently, hurtling back to Kansas, courtesy of ‘Google Earth’

    I particularly did like when a winged monkey carried Dotty away, the harness used had her dangling between his legs, giving the impression of some mid-air fellatio…or is that just my warped mind?

  6. Jan Says:

    It shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise that Bill Kenwright trod the boards – after all he did play Gordon Clegg in Coronation Street for years. You remember, he was the son of Maggie Clegg, who ran the corner shop before Alf Roberts, except it turned out he wasn’t really her son, his real mother was …

  7. Diana Says:

    My friend was there the evening Michael Crawford was ill. She had paid £58 per ticket and was amazed that the understudy did not know the lines and was reading off a script. Yes, a script!

    I told her she should get her money back.

  8. Dean Porter Says:

    Great sets, but the rest (Waddingham aside) was leaden. Ultimately, we agreed that TWOO just doesn’t work as a stage musical.

  9. Adrian Says:

    Lover your review but I think you are being “kind” – yer well…
    I went last night and though it was a real non-event. Yup, it sort of gets through (although the guy me asked if I wanted to go home at the intermission!) but it is not that spectacular – the orchestra is thin – the dance numbers with the exception of the scene in the witche’s castle are mediocre – the Crawford part is non-existent, and his timing is terrible – and it all needs more energy and panache! The only Lord Webber show which really has worked was Phantom and that is because of Hal Prince. Even Love Never Dies might have made it if Prince had been there to whack it into shape. The only interesting thing about the show last night was the audience – a mixture of mums and dads and big gay bears. And I mean big – the guy in front of us was so large we could ony see half the stage ! So the “sociology” of the evening was fascinating but not worth £60 quid plus for a ticket. And my god the cost of ice-creams !!! Beware….

  10. Adrian Says:

    Wish there was a way to correct typos once you have submitted. Dear God, dyslexia rule on my note above !!!.

  11. JohnnyFox Says:

    facisitic: as accidentally appropriate Whinger neologisms go, I’m loving this one formed from reconstituted cuts of Nazi+parasite+critic. No one I know, of course.

  12. […] bang on cue, too.” But Toto’s performance did have unexpected side-effects, says the West End Whingers. He – or they? – tended to be “marvellously, completely unfazed by the drama or spectacle […]

  13. Tony Coe Says:

    A group from my firm went to see this show last night as our New Year’s celebration. We paid over £70 per seat!

    Less than 20 minutes into the show it was stopped due to technical problems. This was the point in the story where the tornado hits the farm.

    We waited for about 45 minutes with zero news from the management of the theatre – except for an occasional recorded voice telling us to stay in our seats because they were not expecting the delay to be long. This was BS!

    About an hour after the show was halted a rather wobbly, teary-eyed Michael Crawford came on stage to say the show could not go on!

    We retired to the stalls bar because we’d paid a large sum for interval drinks. The staff were keen to rush us out because they wanted to get out of there early! The management refused even a complimentary soft drink to one of my party who had not pre-ordered an interval drink! Some serious customer service training is needed at this theatre!

    As it was, the theatre was barely a third full so this show isn’t going to last much longer. Based on the bit we saw, we are not keen to rebook. The beginning of the show is pretty boring!

    I’m a big fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, so it pains me to have to say these things, but they need to be said!

    Next week we’re off to see Blood Brothers instead. It’s far better value and we KNOW it’s a great show!

  14. brian lovell Says:

    went satufrday night what a good show the special effects are fantastic the cast first class no problems at all enjoyed from start to finish

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: