First Night: The Wizard Of Oz, London Palladium


Dorothy delivers but a four-legged star steals Lloyd Webber's show

With more than 9,000 young hopefuls aspiring to land the leading role in Andrew Lloyd Webber's intermittently exhilarating new production of The Wizard Of Oz, it's clear that you don't need to be a sworn friend of Judy Garland to be a friend of Dorothy.

What it means, in that sense, to be one of her chums is alluded to in the moment when David Ganly's Cowardly Lion – an adorably incongruous mix of Bronx "I-coulda-been a contender" tough-guy accent and the camp manner of a scaredy-cat wuss – responds to the Wizard's disembodied interrogation in Oz with the declaration: "I am proud to be a friend of Dorothy."

Otherwise, it is only Hannah Waddingham's magnificent Wicked Witch of the West (oddly like a demonically destructive, cackling version of Bette Midler) who is liable to fly over the heads of the kids, issuing ultimatums through the megaphone attached to the end of her broomstick.

The aims of the production are to create a stage version that truly rivals, in theatrical terms, the much-loved 1939 movie; to fill in the dramatic gaps left by the great Arlen/Harburg score with numbers specially written by Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, here collaborating with Lloyd Webber for the first time on a West End show since Evita in 1978, and to make a star of Danielle Hope who was the public's choice for Dorothy on television's Over The Rainbow.

It is more successful at some of these ambitions than others. Jeremy Sams's production is a marvel of beguiling narrative fluency and, with Robert Jones's superb designs, of endlessly witty and spectacular visual invention – from the digitally-enhanced hurricane transition to Oz to the skeletally twisted Gothic palace of the Wicked Witch and her totalitarian, helmeted guards.

Lloyd Webber's handful of new numbers include an amusingly baleful and thumping military waltz à la Prokofiev for the Witch and for Michael Crawford, who is genuinely charming in a clutch of roles, a nattily rhymed catalogue song from Professor Marvel about the wonders of the world, replete with slideshow and a somewhat pre-emptive moral that home is best.

You can't fault the proficiency of Hope's performance or her clear, serviceable singing. But while there is appeal in the way she shows how Dorothy's game and generous spirit always overcomes her nerves, Hope is never going to break your heart, as Garland does with the ache of her yearning to escape from and then get back to Kansas. Her rendition of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" sounds a shade too studied as opposed to vulnerable and spontaneous.

I found myself touched by the endlessly endearing Westmoreland terrier (one of four rotating in the role) who didn't put a paw wrong as Toto. With a quartet of canines here and eight in Legally Blonde, one wonders whether they all go off together for a post-show bowl of water at some Soho kennel and bitch about what a dog's life it is to be a four-legged star in the West End.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before