Leading the 50-strong cast of Southbank Centre artistic director Jude Kelly’s new production, Sian Brooke’s steps into Judy Garland’s ruby slippers as Dorothy, starring alongside former Royal Ballet principal Adam Cooper as the Tin Man, Gary Wilmot as the Cowardly Lion, Hilton McRae as the Scarecrow, Roy Hudd as the Wizard and Julie Legrand as the Wicked Witch of the West. Toto is played by a West Highland terrier named Bobby.
L Frank Baum himself wrote the first 1903 stage version of his 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The story is best known from the 1939 Hollywood film starring a 16-year-old Judy Garland. This musical version, adapted by John Kane from the Warner Bros movie and with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and EY Harburg, was premiered in 1987 by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican (where it was revived in 1988 before transferring to Stratford in 1989), with a young Imelda Staunton as Dorothy. This is the first major London production since then.
Director Jude Kelly previously helmed a 2002 revival of the musical at Leeds’ West Yorkshire Playhouse, where she was then artistic director. The Wizard of Oz is designed by Michael Vale, with musical direction by Jonathan Gill, choreography by Nick Winston, lighting by Mike Gunning and visual installation by Huntley Muir.
While overnight critics found much to praise in the production, most were ultimately underwhelmed by its “upmarket panto” feel and “drab” staging. Many acknowledged that the Royal Festival Hall is “not designed for theatre”, but nevertheless felt disappointed by the “direction and design decisions” which made the three-hour production lack “the necessary wow-factor”. The cast found greater favour. Though Sian Brooke struggled to exorcise the ghost of Judy Garland in critics’ minds, her musical theatre debut was nonetheless deemed “creditable”, and Adam Cooper, Gary Wilmot, Hilton McRae and Julie Legrand were all applauded for their performances,
- by Kate Jackson