More than nine months since the BBC’s talent show Over The Rainbow finished, winner Danielle Hope finally gives us her Dorothy in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new staging of The Wizard Of Oz.
The Lord has really gone to town; in a refurbished London Palladium this is a high-impact show with lavish costumes, expensive-looking sets by Robert Jones, an intricate stage revolve and some CGI wizardry that conjures the tornado which transports Dorothy to Oz.
We all know the story, and, bar a couple of additions, this is a faithful adaptation of the classic 1939 film forever associated with Judy Garland. It starts in a sepia-toned Kansas, where wilful orphan Dorothy lives on a farm with her aunt and uncle before a fearsome twister whisks the girl and her canine companion Toto to the rainbow-coloured land of Oz. There, she teams up with an unlikely trio to battle the Wicked Witch of the West and learn ‘there’s no place like home’.
As our heroine, Hope spends more time on stage than any other cast member and has the daunting task of having to act while keeping white Westie Toto under control. She does both admirably, capturing the youthful vulnerability of Dorothy and displaying a fine singing voice while not letting the cute dog distract her from performing. Nevertheless, this doesn’t stop the audience from being distracted, the mere wag of a tail sending a giggle round the auditorium.
If Toto threatens to upstage the human actors then Wicked Witch Hannah Waddingham puts him firmly in his doggy place. Unrecognisable in prosthetic chin and green body paint, she is resplendent in a black feathered gown, her hair piled into a beehive to resemble a witch’s hat. Bringing a devilish energy to her performance, she revels in evil witchery, cackling like a demon and turning part Medusa, part burlesque showgirl in her one solo number, Red Shoes Blues, set in her castle lair. She even gets up close with the audience by swooping down on her broomstick from the ceiling of the auditorium.
The Witch’s song is one of a few extra numbers that Lloyd Webber and his old mucker Tim Rice have written for the show, adding to the familiar tunes. Dorothy’s opener Nobody Understands Me emphasises her feelings towards her aunt and uncle, while Michael Crawford’s role in Kansas, Professor Marvel, is fleshed out by a song in which he sings about the Wonders Of The World to the runaway Dorothy. Though it could be seen as superfluous, the number gives Crawford a bigger role in what is otherwise a cameo; as the Wizard, he doesn’t appear until near the end.
Of the rest of the cast, Emily Tierney is a witty Glinda who knows how to make an entrance, while Paul Keating, Edward Baker-Duly and David Ganly put in competent performances as Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion. By the end, the friendship between Dorothy and her sidekicks has become genuinely touching. Even if the sentimental ‘no place like home’ message is hammered… home (sorry) a little too much, this is a show that manages to find a heart amid its big, slick, flashy appearance.