So The Wizard of Oz opened in London yesterday with a sort of press night and now the reviews are starting to come in thick and fast. Ignoring the preemptive reviews such as that in the Sun far too early on, what are the papers saying about Danielle Hope and The Wizard of Oz today?
Well the consensus seems to be that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new production of The Wizard Of Oz has been met with broadly positive reviews from theatre critics.
The show, which features Danielle Hope in the role of Dorothy after she won TV talent show Somewhere Over The Rainbow, was unveiled to the media and a star-studded audience including Sir Michael Caine and Barbara Windsor at the London Palladium on Tuesday night.
Writing in the Daily Mail, Quentin Letts said the Manchester teenager was “more than efficient” in the lead role, praising her for her “clear, strong voice and a broad-shouldered confidence”.
The Independent’s Paul Taylor gave it four out of a five stars, and gave a special mention to the “endlessly endearing” terrier in the role of Toto.
A host of big-name stars attended the opening night of the Wizard of Oz.
Re-worked for the London stage by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, the newly-opened musical sees BBC talent show winner Danielle Hope take on the lead role of Dorothy, while West End veteran Michael Crawford plays the Wizard himself and Hannah Waddingham braves the wrath of the audience as the Wicked Witch.
If opening night reviews are anything to go by, then the show is likely to prove a hit with theatre-goers between now and September 17th, when its scheduled run at the Palladium Theatre is due to come to an end.
Following on from a glitzy press night, which saw the likes of Charlotte Church pick up Wizard of Oz tickets and pop into the capital to see the show, the London Evening Standard declared: “This is a family musical with a gorgeous sense of spectacle, as well as being a polished essay in escapism.”
Already, however, some critics are saying that Dorothy’s dog Toto, played by a well-trained West Highland terrier, is the real star of the new show.
Theatregoers – who also included Phillip Schofield, Rowan Atkinson, Michael Winner and Duncan James – strolled up the rainbow-coloured carpet as they arrived to see the production at the historic Palladium theatre in London.
They were joined by several of the runners-up of the television talent show and Lloyd Webber himself, who looked somewhat like the Wizard of Oz in his green velvet jacket.
Jodie Prenger, who was Lloyd Webber’s Nancy in Oliver! after winning BBC show I’d Do Anything and helped in the nationwide search for a dog to star as Toto, said she could relate to any first night nerves Danielle might be feeling.
Speaking before the cast took to the stage, she said: “She’ll be petrified right now. But when she walks out on that stage you’ll see that they made such the right decision, because she’s just going to shine. She was just fabulous. And I can’t wait to see the dog.”
The show received a standing ovation after wowing the audience with spectacular technical effects, including a revolving stage, a fantasy tornado and monkeys flying through the stalls.
Michael Billington of the Guardian writes
.. I came out feeling blitzkrieged rather than charmed.
The star of the show is undoubtedly the set and costume designer, Robert Jones. The Kansas cyclone that whisks Dorothy into a dreamworld is evoked through vorticist projections (the work of Jon Driscoll) that betoken chaos in the cosmos. 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.
Not since 19th century Drury Lane melodramas can London have seen anything quite like it; 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, and misses a trick by not highlighting the latter’s resemblance to PT Barnum whom he once played. Only two of the cast transcend the spectacle. Hannah Waddingham makes the Wicked Witch a pointy-chinned ogre who at one point flies over the audience’s heads with an elan that Spider Man might envy. David Ganly notches up a first by making the Cowardly Lion explicitly gay and announcing “I’m proud to be a friend of Dorothy.”
Of course, there are the songs; it’s good to be reminded of such classics as Over The Rainbow, We’re Off To See The Wizard, and Follow The Yellow Brick Road. The additions by Lloyd Webber and Rice are also perfectly acceptable. Dorothy is given a good plaintive opening number, and Red Shoes Blues, sung by the Wicked Witch, has a pounding intensity. But, as a film scholar remarked to me, the movie was a story with songs rather than a full-blown musical. That delicate balance has been changed, and an essentially simple fable about the importance of individual worth seems overblown.
I suspect in the end the show will be critic-proof and people will go to see both the winner of the TV talent contest and to luxuriate in the sumptuous visuals. But the paradox of the evening is that it suffers the same dilemma as the Tin Man: it might have been so much more if it only had a heart.