Since opening at the London Palladium in March 2011 the stage musical of The Wizard of Oz has become one of the West End’s most popular shows. It has earned a spate of theatrical awards, including Best Musical Revival just three days ago at the 2012 Whatsonstage.com Awards and its two stars Danielle Hope and Michael Crawford, who led the cast as Dorothy and The Wizard respectively, quickly became fan favourites – with them both departing in the WOZ cast change at the start of this month, I went along to the Palladium to see how their replacements are doing in the merry old land of Oz.
Sophie Evans, who came second to Hope in the BBC television talent show Over The Rainbow, has taken the lead and stepped into those sparkly ruby slippers after being bumped up from alternate Dorothy to taking on the role full-time. Her girl-next-door features are a perfect match for the popular image of the homebody Kansas farm girl, while her sweet and innocent manner offers an endearing quality to what I’ve found to be an occasionally irritating character. She also possesses a naturally pure voice that lends a sincerity to her songs, delivering one of the best renditions of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ that I’ve heard.
Her performance is beautifully complimented by the addition of Russell Grant. He plays his dual roles well, alternating between the slightly flamboyant Professor Marvel and the bumbling, but still wonderful, Wizard of Oz. Grant was originally reluctant to follow in Crawford’s footsteps, but the part has been subtly tweaked with the inclusion of some Charleston, Paso Doble and American Smooth steps; his smooth dancing sets him apart from Crawford’s Wizard and makes the part seem perfectly tailored to him.
Marianne Benedict has had a lot more time to settle herself into the role/s as Miss Gulch/The Wicked Witch of the West, taking over from Hannah Waddingham in September 2011. Her ‘baddie’ of the piece can feel a little pantomime at times, but it works for the tone of the character and the show, and she excels in her big solo number ‘Red Shoes Blues’, even taking in her stride the technical hitch which occurred and caused a momentary pause in the show. She also sparks well against Florence Andrews who is covering the role of Glinda while Emily Tierney is off due to a broken foot. Andrews did a superb job, portraying Glinda with an air of both sickly sweetness and smug superiority, with a silvery voice to match her dress.
The show also benefits from the comic relief of Dorothy’s trio of tag-a-longs. Paul Keating and Edward Baker-Duly are as brilliant as ever as the dim-witted but loveable Scarecrow and the velvety-voiced Tin Man respectively, pulled together with the new addition of Martin Callaghan as the yellow-bellied but decidedly camp Cowardly Lion. The ensemble are also on top form, with some slick dancing and excellent vocal performances.
The Wizard of Oz remains a fun, family show, offering theatre-goers stunning sets, energetic choreography and some great effects; from the twister that carries Dorothy to Oz, to flying monkeys and a Wicked Witch swooping over the audience’s heads. If the show is still as impressive as when it first opened, the new cast are even more so. There’s no place like home? Right now, I’d say that there’s no place like Oz.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Content updated 4th April 2014