Based on the Book by: L. Frank Baum
Music: Harold Arlen
Lyrics: E.Y. Harburg
Additional Music & Lyrics: Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice
Adaptors: Andrew Lloyd Webber & Jeremy Sams
Director: Nikolai Foster
Leicester’s Curve production of The Wizard of Oz, steered by artistic director Nikolai Foster, received critical acclaim last year and so arrives at the London Palladium with noteworthy momentum. Whilst Georgina Onuorah’s central performance as Dorothy is certainly worth resurrecting; a surprising amount is hit or miss in this highly-anticipated West End transfer.
Foster has a strong vision for this reimagined production, significantly overhauling Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s 2011 adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s classic tale. Set in a retro-futuristic industrial landscape where Munchkinland is a suburb, the Emerald City is an alternate version of New York, and witches travel via moped; the quality of the production fluctuates between impressively innovative and off-puttingly tacky.
A large component of this is the overuse of videography. Utilising a digital backdrop for such a visually demanding tale seems like an intelligent choice and indeed it does prove effective during the whirlwind scene – to a point. However, gratuitous projections and underwhelming animated sequences become vehicles for exposition and storytelling and, for a tale rooted in nostalgia, it is not an endearing experience.
What does occur live on stage is, for the most part, exciting and enjoyable to watch. The impressive vocal talents of the cast inject life into Lloyd-Webber’s contributions and transform the recognisable original songs into show-stopping numbers.
Onuorah’s Dorothy is a treasure to watch and supplies enough heart to ground the production, which is frequently busy and loud. With gorgeously strong vocal ability, her rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow is genuinely breathtaking; however, it is unfortunate when a production peaks within its first ten minutes.
That is not to say that everything following the famous ballad is consistently downhill. Other highlights include Gary Wilmot as a delightfully zany Professor Marvel/Wizard of Oz, and Louis Gaunt, who presents a lovable Scarecrow with impressive vocals and physicality.
Some casting choices feel more short-sighted. Having professional dancer Ashley Banjo execute the Tin Man’s de-rusting routine is an admittedly intelligent gimmick which does pay off. Yet Banjo must then endure the remainder of the show acting and singing, at which he is okay but unmemorable. On a similar star-casting note, Jason Manford would seem an appropriate choice for the comedy-heavy Cowardly Lion role, and he has a cracking voice on him too. His acting, however, veers towards the two-dimensional and beneath well-rehearsed comedy beats, the routine feels slightly hollow.
This current production of The Wizard of Oz throws a lot at its audience; it is loud, ambitious and certainly trying to be a spectacle. Yet, when averaged out, the overall quality of the show is just okay. It remains, in essence, a fun family show and the star-studded cast will undoubtedly please many.
Runs until 3 September 2023