Jeremy Sams' staging remains faithful to the film, using the original music and lyrics by Howard Arlen and E.Y Harburg with some additional songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, but the satirical edge of L. Frank Baum's books has long been blunted and the sheer strangeness of the material has been diluted. This new production makes little attempt to excavate or play with that legacy; it is simply an exercise in spectacle, color, and noise, designed to wow a family audience.
As Dorothy, Danielle Hope -- the winner of the BBC's Over the Rainbow talent search -- acquits herself very well. She's an amiable stage presence, if a rather static one -- especially in her rendition of the show's best known song, which she sings rooted to the spot, her hands hanging awkwardly at her side. When choreographer Arlene Phillips actually gives her something to do, she's far livelier.
Paul Keating, Edward Baker-Duly and David Ganly are all solid enough as the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion respectively. While he doubles as Professor Marvel and the titular Wizard, as well as playing additional cameos, Michael Crawford feels underused; there's little pathos to his wizard, an anti-climax of a character if ever there was one.
Meanwhile, Hannah Waddingham, with her face painted pea-green and her hair sculpted into a wicked peak, seems to be having the most fun as the Witch of the West, stomping and screeching and cackling, waving her flame-thrower broomstick like a true pantomime villain.
Robert Jones' set design is quite dazzling. The Wizard's inner sanctum is oppressively Orwellian and quite unnerving while Emerald City is a glitzy art deco affair that's more than a little Miami. Kansas is suitably sepia-toned and filmic and the Oz that Dorothy first encounters is lurid and oddly shoddy, like a 1970s children's television show, more acid trip than fevered dream.
Every time the production threatens to impress it undoes its good work with a ham-fisted joke or a bludgeoning lyric. Lloyd Webber and Rice's new songs only serve to underscore exactly what the audience has already been told. Reprimanded by Aunty Em and Uncle Henry in the busy opening scene, Dorothy sings "Nobody Understands Me" just to hammer home the point. Nor does the production truly seem to believe in its sugary insistence that one's heart's desire resides in one's own backyard; it says the words but doesn't seem to mean them.
Toto, the terrier, is on stage for much of the production, and he often looks entirely nonplussed by what's happening around him. At times, it's hard not to sympathize.
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