It may have been a long time in the making, but Nikolai Foster’s new take on The Wizard of Oz opens at the London Palladium, fresh from a festive run at Curve, Leicester. Hard-working producer, Michael Harrison (surely still giddy over the glowing Crazy For You reviews earlier this week) allows the audience to escape into the world of Oz in another rip-roaring success.
With Wicked just a couple of tube stops away, The Wiz recently finishing a Manchester run, and countless other variations of the L. Frank Baum story running all over the country, you might be wondering what makes this one different. Well, it’s probably the closest thing to being called the OG on stage. It’s a reworked version of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice and Jeremy Sams’ original, and most resembles the 1939 MGM film that all friends of Dorothy are familiar with.
It even has the songs that made the film such a success, ‘Over The Rainbow’ and ‘Yellow Brick Road’ amongst them, in divine orchestrations from David Cullen, that make them sit beautifully beside the additional music, such as ‘Red Shoes Blue’.
The synergies with the film version don’t end there, in fact this is a very cinematic production; making good use of video projections from Douglas O’Connell to transport us, via a twister, from the dustbowl of Kansas to the magical technicolour of the land of Oz, there are even a few Easter eggs from the golden age of cinema hidden throughout. It all looks spectacular, coupled with Colin Richmond’s set design, making The Wizard of Oz the epic production that it deserves to be.
Leading the cast is Georgina Onuorah as Dorothy. Bringing a strong will to the character, Onuorah blows us all away with incredible vocals. That iconic ‘Over The Rainbow’ number comes satisfyingly early, and lets us know from the outset that this is an evening that won’t disappoint.
Despite all the bells and whistles, Nikolai Foster keeps it lo-fi in the places where it will work best, the flying monkeys don’t fly but kind of jump around to give you the idea, and the Wicked Witch’s melting scene is enjoyable without needing any special effects. Both Glinda the Good Witch (a dazzling Christina Bianco) and the Wicked Witch (Dianne Pilkington in outstanding form) carry broomsticks, but prefer to ride around on motorcycles, it all combines to create a wonderfully wacky world of Oz.
The trio of Dorothy’s companions – the Lion, the Tin Man and Scarecrow – delight the audience throughout. Jason Manford excels as the cowardly feline, while Ashley Banjo’s movement skills make the Tin Man entirely believable, especially given the fantastic costume, just one example of Rachael Canning’s clever design. Louis Gaunt completes the line-up and delivers spectacularly on all fronts, this rising star yet again demonstrates just exactly what they are capable of.
And lets not forget Toto, in this production not a real dog, but thanks to masterful puppeteering from Ben Thompson still manages to melt the hearts of everyone in the room.
The Wizard of Oz, running over the summer, could be seen as being aimed at kids, but there’s plenty to enjoy for the adults too. This fresh take on a classic remains faithful to the story we all know and love but gives it so much more. Like the characters, Fosters production is smart, brave and full of heart, it’s pure joyous escapism, and for a musical like this, there really is no place like the London Palladium.