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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the London Palladium


  The Wizard's Chamber/ Ph: Keith Pattison

For the life of me, I cannot see the point in adapting an iconic, near perfect screen musical for the stage unless you can improve on perfection and bring something original to the project. But this rarely, if ever, happens. Woebegone stage incarnations of classic musicals such as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Gigi, Meet Me in St. Louis, Singin' in the Rain and High Society depress rather than elevate and, quite simply, are pointless exercises.
The only reason 42nd Street, a landmark musical from 1933, worked as a stage show was that its legendary producer, David Merrick, while sticking closely to the original storyline, added a clutch of Harry Warren standards not in the original score and secured the services of the brilliant Gower Champion to choreograph and direct.
No such reappraisal is in evidence in Andrew Lloyd Webber's new production of The Wizard of Oz. Though the original screenwriters aren't even mentioned in the program credits, the stage version sticks closely to their script, leaving set and lighting designers Richard Jones and Hugh Vanstone to devise ways of turning screen magic into stage magic, which, it must be said, they occasionally do. Relying on Jon Driscoll's projection designs, they excitingly recreate the tornado that transports Dorothy from Kansas to Oz, and effectively evoke the Wicked Witch of the West's scary lair. And given the limitations of any stage production, the dazzle of Oz itself is lavishly conveyed. 
But by the very nature of the undertaking, it's all a massive compromise. Comparisons, they say, are odious. But sometimes inevitable. For those of you familiar with MGM's famous 1939 film, there is no way you can avoid comparing the original with the fake. Quite simply, one is made of diamonds, the other of paste.
What it boils down to in the end is how the new cast stacks up against the old. How does Danielle Hope (the British public's choice for Dorothy) compare with Judy Garland? Or Paul Keating's Scarcrow, Edward Baker-Duiy's Tin Man and David Ganly's Cowardly Lion with Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, and Bert Lahr?
Well, of course, they don't. At best they give a decent approximation of their incomparable models, with Keating not even attempting to recreate Bolger's boneless, uniquely uncoordinated body movements, or Ganly trying to impersonate the equally unique mannerisms of Bert Lahr. In the circumstances it was wise, therefore, to cut the Lion's big solo, I Am King of the Forest. What Ganly does accentuate in the role is the Lion's campiness, even announcing, in the vernacular, that he is "a friend of Dorothy."
Danielle Hope has a pleasant enough voice but substitutes churlishness for vulnerability. Her return to Kansas and leave-taking of her three companions should break your heart. Here it's just perfunctory. Michael Crawford appears as both Professor Marvel and the Wizard, and, as an inducement no doubt, has been provided with two of the four new serviceable songs with which Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice have augmented the original Harold Arlen-E.Y. Harburg score. Given the star wattage Crawford exuded in his prime, he seems more of an appendage to the production rather than being integral to it.
Standing out like a proverbial beacon in thick fog is Hannah Waddingham's Wicked Witch of the West. If all the performances had been of this quality, Jeremy Samm's thoroughly professional but ultimately futile recreation might have been a trip along the Yellow Brick Road worth taking.

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