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Review Round-up: Are Critics Friends of Dorothy?

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The Wizard of Oz, one of the year’s biggest musical productions, opened last night at the London Palladium (1 March 2011, previews from 7 February).

With a cast led by Over the Rainbow winner Danielle Hope (Dorothy), original Phantom Michael Crawford (The Wizard) and West End stalwart Hannah Waddingham (The Wicked Witch), the production includes new songs written by Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, working together for the first time in 34 years.

The Wizard of Oz is helmed by the same creative team behind Lloyd Webber’s Whatsonstage.com Award-winning revival of The Sound of Music starring his first reality TV winner Connie Fisher – director Jeremy Sams, designer Robert Jones and choreographer Arlene Phillips.

Will the blockbuster production match the success of its ‘prequel’ across town, Wicked? Here’s a selection of overnight opinions posted so far…

Michael Coveney

"The thing about 16 year-old Judy Garland in the 1939 MGM movie was her headlong, astonishing childish maturity and star quality; 18 year-old Danielle is lovely – and much better than a rather grim-jawed Imelda Staunton in the charmless 1987 RSC stage version – but she’s ‘acting’ a role, not living it, and adjusting her new companions to her own niceness, not discovering their innate qualities. What’s missing? Yearning, desperation, love; that’s all … Jeremy Sams’ production, beautifully designed by Robert Jones (apart from the terrible Wizard face-projecting video), takes us from the dark Kansas vistas of furrowed fields to the green art deco Palace of Oz, via the revolving cornfield and flower banks along the Yellow Brick Road; a colourful eyeball feast, all right … David Cullen’s elegant, always interesting orchestrations are slyly creative throughout, and there’s some typically energetic choreography from Arlene Phillips on the revolving stage.”

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

“The fact is that I have never been a friend of Dorothy and have always cordially loathed The Wizard of Oz … I can’t pretend that I experienced a damascene conversion at this lavish new stage version, for which the BBC generously provided so much free advertising with the popular talent contest Over the Rainbow, but I did at least manage to sit through it without throwing up in the aisle … I wouldn’t get too excited by the prospect of the handful of new songs written by the old firm of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, though Red Shoes Blues sung by Hannah Waddingham’s magnificently malevolent Wicked West of the Witch brings some welcome wit to the party … Danielle Hope, who won the competition to play Dorothy, offers a thoroughly competent rather than an inspired performance … Quite why Michael Crawford has bothered to come out of semi-retirement to play Professor Marvel and the Wizard is a mystery to me.”

Paul Taylor

Jeremy Sams' production is a marvel of beguiling narrative fluency and, with Richard Jones' superb designs, of endlessly witty and spectacular visual invention – from the digitally-enhanced hurricane transition to Oz to the skeletally twisted Gothic palace of the Wicked Witch and her totalitarian, helmeted guards … You can't fault the proficiency of Hope's performance or her clear, serviceable singing. But while there is appeal in the way she shows how Dorothy's game and generous spirit always overcomes her nerves, Hope is never going to break your heart, as Garland does with the ache of her yearning to escape from and then get back to Kansas. Her rendition of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ sounds a shade too studied as opposed to vulnerable and spontaneous … I found myself touched by the endlessly endearing Westmoreland terrier (one of four rotating in the role) who didn't put a paw wrong as Toto.”

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

"The most appealing star of Lord Lloyd Webber’s latest telly-marketing musical is not veteran hoofer Michael Crawford or even Danielle Hope, the dark-haired song thrush who warbled her way to stardom via a BBC talent show. It is Toto the West Highland terrier … the Munchkins are a mixture of sticky-sweet children and grinning adults, in blue-checked pinnies and bonnets. They look like some terrible stereotype of an American Mormon family … Miss Hope is more than efficient as Dorothy. She has a clear, strong voice and a broad-shouldered confidence … Arlen’s great 'Over The Rainbow' comes awkwardly early. The bolt is shot barely ten minutes into the evening. Miss Hope delivers it tidily enough but there was a sense of anti-climax afterwards … To be honest, the dramatic buzz here is not much better than you’d find at a decent pantomime.”

Michael Billington

"The Victorian theatre of spectacle is alive and well, and residing at the London Palladium. But although this adaptation of the Frank Baum book and the 1939 movie, with additional songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, is quite an eyeful, it's somewhat lacking in humanity. I came out feeling blitzkrieged rather than charmed. The star of the show is undoubtedly the set and costume designer, Robert Jones … The Yellow Brick Road is on a tilted revolve from inside which poppyfields and labyrinthine forest emerge. The Emerald City is full of steeply inclined walls suggesting a drunkard's vision of the Chrysler Building lobby. And the Wicked Witch of the West inhabits a rotating dungeon that might be a Piranesi nightmare … one has to admire the director and co-adaptor, Jeremy Sams, for marshalling the effects. But the story and the people get swamped. Danielle Hope shows a natural, easy presence as Dorothy, but can't hope to compete with the scenery. Even Michael Crawford, playing both Professor Marvel and The Wizard, seems slightly subdued.”

Libby Purves
The Times

“Hope is charming: sweetly naive and sincere. When she first soars into ‘Over the Rainbow’ without a tremor, applause stops the action … The tornado gets applause too — no mechanical or projection device is spared as the farmhouse whirls through outer space to land in the primary-coloured toytown of Oz, with a pair of dead witch’s legs under it … The three friends on the road are fun - Paul Keating physically fearless and funny as the Scarecrow, and David Ganly a very camp lion (‘I am proud be a friend of Dorothy’). But for all the fabulous forest, and the glorious pipework and levers and dials of Oz’s lair, it didn’t move me … The second half takes off, being darker and nicely frightening. Hannah Waddingham gives the witch real viciousness, even with Rice-rhymes like ‘she’s prissy, she’s clueless, I want her shoeless’ … Crawford brings vulnerability and humour. I warmed to it at last, despite a helpless sense that it’s a juggernaut. A predetermined hit.”


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