Dorothy, Wizard alive and well in dazzling "Oz" play

Wed Mar 2, 2011 3:52pm EST
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By Ray Bennett

LONDON (Hollywood Reporter) - If ever a show was presold, it's the new stage version of "The Wizard of Oz," with the 1939 movie a perennial favorite and Danielle Hope cast as Dorothy thanks to winning a 10-week primetime BBC reality show. However, it really does deliver.

Audiences might hum the film's indelible tunes on the way into the London Palladium, but when they leave, they will be buzzing about the extraordinary sets and costumes that Robert Jones has created for Dorothy's adventures on the yellow brick road.

The show, running through September 17, features all the original songs by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, as well as four new numbers by Tim Rice and producer Andrew Lloyd Webber, who adapted the show with director Jeremy Sams.

The film was more an adventure with songs than an outright musical, so Rice and Lloyd Webber, who had much success with "Evita," have filled in the gaps quite sensibly.

They have provided "Nobody Understands Me" as a scene-setter at the start for Dorothy and "Red Shoes Blues," a rousing show-stopper for Hannah Waddingham as the Wicked Witch of the West, plus two songs for star Michael Crawford, renowned for the title role in Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera."

As Professor Marvel, he tries to get Dorothy to stay at home before the storm breaks with the jaunty "Wonders of the World," and as the Wizard he chants the dramatic midpoint curtain-closer "Bring Me the Broomstick."

Hope, who won the TV casting competition, has color and warmth in her voice and delivers "Over the Rainbow" with control and without melodrama. Even if she lacks Judy Garland's wistful charm and vulnerability, she appears confident while successfully mimicking the original star's stride on the stage treadmill that is the yellow brick road. She's not helped by an adorable scene-stealing Toto, one of four white West Highland terriers that rotate in the role, who remains calm amid flashing lights and sudden bangs and barks at the Wizard on cue. The pooch, though, declines to show any interest in the malarkey of walking on any treadmill.

Crawford displays his skill as a master showman in what are brief appearances (as in the film), and Waddingham rides her broomstick with relish, flying high above the crowd looking exactly like Margaret Hamilton.   Continued...