The Wizard of Oz, Palladium, London
Million Dollar Quartet, Noel Coward Theatre, London
Love Freed from Ignorance and Folly, Wilton's Music Hall, London

The special effects will blow you away, but the early highs make the rest of Lloyd Webber's megamusical feel more woozy than whizzy

A twister is sucking us into its vortex, sending us skywards. The spectacular visuals in The Wizard of Oz, the West End megamusical co-produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber, can certainly generate excitement. The tornado – about to carry off Danielle Hope's unhappy Dorothy – spins over Kansas's dark plains like a sinuous ghost.

Snaking across the distant horizon, it suddenly whips towards the audience and we're in the eye of the storm. Uprooted, spindle-shanked windmills whirl across the Palladium's proscenium, projected on scrim. Through the gauze, you see the shack in which Dorothy is sheltering gyrate and take off too, courtesy of invisible hydraulics. Only after zooming into outer space, like some clapboard Starship Enterprise, does itcome to rest in Munchkinland, by which time I'm giddy.

All this wizardry is slickly directed by Jeremy Sams. Robert Jones's sets are outstanding, from his lonesome farmstead to the psychedelia of Dorothy's dreamland. There the yellow brick road is a ring of light revolving around tropical flowers, and the Emerald City a metropolis of Art Deco skyscapers, sheering into the stratosphere at Expressionist angles.

Hope is likeable and assured. The winner of Lloyd Webber's televised talent contest, she sings "Over the Rainbow" with a lovely mellifluousness, though she might yet find more intense yearning. Michael Crawford is perfectly affable as the Wizard, once he's revealed as as old gent, and Edward Baker-Duly's robotic Tin Man has droll flashes of suave machismo (as if distantly related to Buzz Lightyear). But David Ganly's Lion is a weak link, not helped by feeble gags.

None of the new songs is storming either, written by Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, reunited after 34 years. The Wizard and Hannah Waddingham's Wicked Witch both have thumping numbers when in mean mode, with orchestrations aping Berlin cabaret, and marching bands (not to mention a chunk lifted from Mussorgsky). Neither is genuinely scary.

Some might say this production would be better if it only had a heart. Personally, I felt let down by the lack of sharp ideas. Sams gestures towards a political reading, but only makes the Wicked Witch's henchmen a vague mishmash of Nazi stormtroopers and Cossacks. So, after inducing an initial high, the lavish staging feels increasingly vacuous. The show is a hit already anyway, with advance sales surpassing £10m.

Million Dollar Quartet is a comparatively modest jukebox biomusical, really a sketchily dramatised gig featuring rock'n'roll hits like "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Hound Dog". It's set in a shabby recording studio in 1956, based on the jamming session when Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins hooked up for one night, together with Sun Records' talent-fostering Sam Phillips. Everyone's musically accomplished, but only Ben Goddard's unruly Lewis is rip-roaring, playing the piano with wild brio: splayed legs jiggling, hands slamming chords, thumb scoring glissandos.

Finally, I headed off to Wilton's, the East End of London's beautifully dilapidated music hall. This was to catch the first revival in 400 years of one of the masques created by the writer-designer duo Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones: Love Freed from Ignorance and Folly (1611). The Jonson 'n' Jones entertainments, performed for James I's court at Whitehall, were the first megamusicals. They mixed drama with song and dance and, being splendiferous, cost buckets.

I would love to see a recreation of Jones's sets, which have gone down in theatre history as feats of engineering, sliding screens revealing vista after vista: huge turning worlds and chariots gliding through the heavens. Maybe one day, if Shakespeare's Globe reconstructs an indoor Jacobean theatre, as planned. In the meantime, Love Freed proved little more than a pared-down titbit, the coda to a one-off, fund-raising Jacobean banquet orchestrated by the young troupe Jericho. The banquet was a jovial feast with endless meat dishes, roast fowl and rabbit. And Jonson might, in fact, have appreciated the post-prandial, bare-boards staging (just one trap door and period costumes). He railed about Jones's grandiose mechanics and insisted his poetic dialogue provided philosophical profundities, "nourishing and sound meats".

Notwithstanding, here Jonson's royalty-flattering allegory is pared down and interrupted by swishing dance interludes (performed by Royal Ballet members), by melancholy solos (sung by Dame Emma Kirkby), and by Prospero's speech from The Tempest – also 1611 – regarding insubstantial pageants (recited by Janet Suzman). Consequently the arcane scenario – wherein Cupid solves a Sphinx's riddle by gazing on the Sun God and seeing the light – is incomprehensible. Freed from ignorance? Nope, none the wiser. Charmed, all the same.

'The Wizard of Oz' (0844 412 2957) booking to 17 Sep; 'Million Dollar Quartet' (0844 482 5141) to 1 Oct

Next Week:

Kate Bassett weathers Cheek By Jowl's The Tempest

Theatre Choice

At the West End's Comedy Theatre, a screwed-up teen accuses her teachers (Elisabeth Moss and Keira Knightley, right) of lesbianism in Lillian Hellman's gripping 1930s drama The Children's Hour (to 7 May). At the BAC in Battersea (to 9 April) Kneehigh revive their early hit The Red Shoes, about a girl who can't stop dancing.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Anthony Hopkins in Westworld

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Rock and role: Jamie Bell's character Benjamin Grimm is transformed into 'Thing' in the film adaptation of Marvel Comics' 'Fantastic Four'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Hopkins veered between sycophancy and insult in her new chat show
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
In his role as Hamlet, Benedict Cumberbatch will have to learn, and repeat night after night, around 1,480 lines

Arts and Entertainment
Belgian sexologist Goedele Liekens with pupils at Hollins Technology College in Accrington
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
The rapper Drake

Arts and Entertainment
The gaffer: Prince Philip and the future Queen in 1947
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Style icons: The Beatles on set in Austria
Arts and Entertainment
By Seuss! ‘What Pet Shall I Get?’ hits the bookshops this week
Arts and Entertainment
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after Enola Gray and her crew dropped the bomb
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Elliott outside his stationery store that houses a Post Office
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Off the wall: the cast of ‘Life in Squares’

Arts and Entertainment

Books And it is whizzpopping!

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.

    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
    Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

    Berlusconi's world of sleaze

    The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
    Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

    Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

    Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
    Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

    Could gaming arcades be revived?

    The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
    Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

    Heard the one about menstruation?

    Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage