A teenage girl runs away from home to save her dog from being put down but gets caught in a tornado and is whisked away to a far off magical land.
There’s an electric atmosphere in the London Palladium that I haven’t experience at any other London theatre. Touted as the most famous theatre in the world due to it’s long history of hosting the biggest names in showbiz, and therefore some of the biggest shows including the Royal Variety Performance, I did wonder if I would have felt any different about the place had I not previously known of its legacy. I probably still would’ve been awe struck as it is, to me, one of the grandest of any of the theatres I’ve been to.
I was sat in the Stalls, Row D, seat 19. At 6′ tall legroom was bearable with about an inch between my knees and the seat in front though I was fortunate to be able to tuck my legs under said seat for confort (otherwise I think I would’ve ended up sporting a cramp). Being so close to the stage meant that when the stage was flat I was unable to see the feet of the actors when they went towards the back of the stage. The seats in row D are not at all staggered with those in row C, meaning the head of the person directly in front of me was always in the way (other than when they slumped into their seat). The rake is also almost non-existent for the first four rows at least. I ended up with a slight ache in my neck from looking upwards but nothing major (might be different for those shorter than I).
I haven’t watched the movie in its entirety since I was a kid but what I remember is it that it started in black and white and then switched over to technicolour when Dorothy, her dog Toto, and their house land in Oz after some freak tornado steels them away, and killing the wicked witch of the east in the process. Then something about munch-kins, the evil witch’s even wickeder witchy sister, a good witch, a yellow brick road, a scarecrow, a tin man, a lion, a wizard and some ruby slippers. Oh, and some songs.
All of the elements above are in the theatrical production. The plot basically revolves around getting Dorothy back home to Kansas by realising that home is where the heart is and that she has it within her to rescue herself.
I was surprised at how much I loved the opening scenes pre-OZ. The opening song “Nobody understands me” is great (I love that type of music, I’ll put a link to the song after this paragraph), the stage scenery (windmill, house, carts etc.) drew me in at once and were perfect with projected video adding even more details to this immersive experience.
Then we get to Oz and it all gets super-cheese. Now, I like overly sentimental dialogue to a rather embarrassingly large degree but for some reason this just irritated me. I think I wanted more depth which in retrospect is more of a failing on my part because this musical is meant to be a family show and rather light entertainment and so in that context I think it succeeds. I really enjoyed the Scarecrow, the Tin-man, and most of all the Lion who had me laughing throughout. I can identify with each of the characteristics that those three feel they are missing (intelligence, emotions and bravery) and therefore I liked them as characters (I know, it’s not objective but I always like characters I can identify with in some way).
Having seen Wicked a few years previous and having only midly enjoyed it, I must confess that in comparison to the The Wizard of OZ, Wicked is the superior musical in my opinion with a vastly superior staging of the machanical Wizard of Oz than is achieved at the Palladium. Again however, I think they each have a different audiance in mind, and so with that context it’s not fair to directly compare them other than to say that I personally preferred Wicked for it’s attempt at not having so many 2D characters.
Overall, it was a fun evening with some surprises with actors being suspending from the air (I won’t spoil those with more details because I didn’t know about them before hand and they proved to be the highlights for me). I liked the ambiguity of Oz being either fantasy or reality. I liked Dorathy effectively realising that she has the resources to save herself and I think that aspect of the musical raises it up several levels in my estimation. Plus there’s about 3 or 4 songs which I adore and will be looking to download them in the near future. I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it again but I didn’t hate it and that’s something :)