Saturday, September 17, 2011

In London, A Truly Wonderful 'Wizard Of Oz'

Photo provided /
Michael Crawford as Professor Marvel, Danielle Hope as Dorothy 

By Emily Couch
Junior Reporter
LONDON, England – I followed the Yellow Brick Road to London’s world famous Palladium to see the original American fairy tale – The Wizard of Oz.
The story begins on a farm in Kansas where the heroine, Dorothy Gale, dreams of something more.  A powerful cyclone grants her wish by dropping her into the magical Land of Oz. 
Having been hailed as a hero for having killed the Wicked Witch of the East, Dorothy and her unusual set of friends must travel to the Emerald City to find the Wizard and save the day.
In 1939, the famous film version starred Judy Garland, who performed at the Palladium herself.
The search for England’s Dorothy began just over a year ago on the BBC reality TV show “Over the Rainbow,” which held auditions all over the UK, whittling down 9,000 hopefuls to a final 10 who competed to win the country’s favour.
The panel of judges included:  John Partridge, who was part of the filmed version of Cats, Charlotte Church a Welsh soprano, and the famous British actress, Sheila Hancock. 
The judges, who were of course presided over by the man behind it all, Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, chose 19-year-old Danielle Hope as the people’s Dorothy.
A momentous task lay ahead of her in playing Judy Garland’s iconic role.  Could she fill the Hollywood star’s ruby slippers?
As it happened, she stepped right into them and they fit her just as well as the glass slipper fit Cinderella. 
Hope was careful to remain faithful to Garland’s portrayal whilst also bringing her own slightly edgier quality to the role. 
This brought Dorothy forward into the 21st century so many younger members of the audience could relate to the “nobody understands me” sentiment. 
Hope proved to be a real triple threat.  Her beautiful singing, subtle yet characterful acting and her fancy footwork on the yellow brick road were all flawless.
Theater legend Michael Crawford, whose credits include the title role in the iconic Phantom of the Opera, played The Wizard, Professor Marvel, the Doorkeeper and the Tour Guide.
The ease by which he moved between four different roles with four different accents is testament to the sheer quality of his acting.
Although no longer in its prime, his powerful voice remained firmly intact, bringing down the house at the end of Act 1.
Emily Tierney played a wonderfully bubbly Glinda and gets to show off her amazing soprano throughout. She also brought some of Glinda’s comic value from her portrayal of the Glinda in Wicked, adding a new touch to the original role.
Hannah Waddingham was a truly Wicked Witch in both senses of the word. Perfectly portraying the epitome of evil, Waddigham was definitely a match for Dorothy, and wowing the audience with her show-stopping performance of “Red Shoes Blues.”
The little West Highland Terrier who played Toto was, of course, a big hit with the crowd, gaining many a well-deserved “awww” for the cute factor and for his seamless performance.  
The Scarecrow (Paul Keeting), Tin Man (Edward Baker-Duly) and Cowardly Lion (David Ganly) were all brilliantly played, bringing in the timeless humor of their characters. 
The set had the typical magic of a West End show. The Palladium’s rotating stage was put to good use as the Yellow Brick Road, the Witch’s castle and many other scenes.  Designers used the trick of perspective to create a seemingly soaring palace for the Wizard.
The aptly-used projections designed by John Driscoll added a new, techy edge to the show, taking us from Kansas to outer space.  
The creative team also had a particular proclivity for pyrotechnics, which were used regularly throughout the show. 
The costumes were all nearly identical to those of the 1939 movie with the exceptions of Glinda and the Wicked Witch. Instead of the large, pink, wedding cake-esque dress of the movie, Glinda gets to wear a magical, glittering blue dress with a hairdo reminiscent of a squirt of blue whipped cream.  
The Wicked Witch got to shed the shapeless costume of the movie for a sleeker, more feminine, black corseted dress to compliment her green body.
The show included all of Harold Arlen’s original award-winning music plus seven new songs by Webber, including Professor Marvel’s “Wonders of the World,” Dorothy’s “Nobody Understands me,” the Witch’s “Red Shoes Blues” and the chorus number, “Already Home.”
The show definitely had echoes of Webber’s other shows. The exciting new technology and projections seemed to be influenced by those used in the Phantom sequel, Love Never Dies
The Wizard’s song, “Bring Me the Broomstick” was a potent reminder of Phantom of the Opera, especially with Crawford’s voice booming around the theater.  
All in all, the Wizard of Oz is an immensely enjoyable show for all the family, providing a much-needed magical transportation from everyday life.
You’re left thinking, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in London anymore!”
The production is certainly a worthy resurrection of the classic film loved by generations.
If you happen to be in London, I strongly suggest you hop, skip, jump or hail a taxi down the yellow brick road to the London Palladium to see the truly wonderful Wizard of Oz.   

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