REVIEW: The Wizard Of Oz

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LONDON PALLADIUM 12/5/11

IN the dizzy old cyclone that speeds Dorothy from Kansas to Munchkinland, a girl watching from the stalls, can’t have been more than five, suddenly gripped her mother’s shoulders and cried: “I wannnna go home, don’t like it, don’t like it”.

Not at these ticket prices, ma’love! And so the little girl had to sit, wincing at flaming broomsticks and cackles from a green-skinned horror, people spinning out of the Palladium’s loft on a trapeze, a talking tinpot and those pesky flying monkeys all from the relative security of her parent’s lap. For years, her folks will no doubt remind of her of the night she cried at the Wicked Witch of the West. It’ll be her 28th birthday and somebody will joke about going, or not going, to see The Wizard of Oz – oh, no, better not take Emily, she’ll only cry her eyes out. Do you remember, Emily? Do you? Crying?

What the little lady should have been upset about was not the booms and trapdoors, but the lack of imagination in the telling of the classic.

This show is Wizard of Oz by numbers, rarely straying from the yellow brick textbook.

As such, the Emerald City doesn’t look as eye-poppingly amazing as you will find it at Wicked! (the jokey sequel musical at the Apollo in Victoria). There is a paucity of clever lines to spice up the repartee and some of the story feels rushed, as if they know we know what’s going to happen so we might as well glide through it. The melting of one witch is oh so sudden.

That said, the cherubic Lullaby League of younger Munchkins will prove melting in a different way to the audience and when things get a little staid, there’s always Toto the dog jumping up and down and yelping at the right places to draw an “aaaahhh!”

We had the understudy Dorothy – Sophie Evans, who didn’t quite win that curious Saturday night telly offering Somewhere Over The Rainbow. There was no problem with her.

Michael Crawford as the double-crossing Wizard unsurprisingly doesn’t put a foot wrong, either, getting an introductory applause just like when Ritchie Cunningham’s pop turns up in Happy Days. But again, he’s left with a show that tells Frank Baum’s story functionally, rather than animatedly. He goes through the motions without needing to find second gear.

That’s more than enough for the tourist trade out-of-towners in London for the weekend and some of the younger audience (bawling Emily aside).

But given the hype and the size of the production, there aren’t enough risks taken to match some of the other big budget productions in theatreland. The Sound of Music, for instance, recently on this stage, was a dazzle to look at and was thrice as good.

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