Wizard of Oz is a surprisingly polarising story. For some, the merest hint of “somewhere over the rainbow” brings tears to their eyes. And Judy Garland as Dorothy – well, enough said. Others, though, find it a deeply sinister plot, shot through with unforgiveable cloying cliché. One critic recently commented that on his first viewing of the Wizard of Oz (as an adult), he was struck by its mixture of cruelty and sentimentality. I’m inclined to agree with this assessment – but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy Lloyd Webber’s production, directed with meticulous prowess by Jeremy Sams and starring Michael Crawford as Oz.
Dorothy is played by Danielle Hope, the winner of Lloyd Webber’s talent contest on the BBC. Hope has big red shoes to fill and she did so brilliantly. She’s a pretty girl, with lustrous brown hair and an extremely sweet voice. Her Somewhere Over the Rainbow sent shivers down my spine. But far more dazzling than any of the performances – except the Wicked Witch of the West, who is played with screeching glee by Hannah Waddingham – was the set. I was quite literally blown away by the whirling vortex of the tornado that sends Dorothy to Oz; the luscious field of poppies with which the Wicked Witch lures Dorothy and her tired troupe; Emerald City with its population of green and sparkly-clad citizens and the Witch’s majestic, macabre iron fortress in the deep forest infested with lions, tigers and bears.
Dorothy’s companions – the Scarecrow, Tin Man and lion – are likeable, but the best of them is the Jim Carey-esque Tin Man (Edward Baker-Duly). The Good Witch of the North (love that title) wears a dress so dazzling it’s worth going to see it alone. The show is a factory-produced slice of dazzle. Kids will enjoy it but whether it’ll haunt their dreams is another matter. At the London Palladium