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London critics are mixed about ‘Oz’

Sets, dog widely praised

‘The Wizard of Oz’
(London Palladium, London)

The Verdict looks at critical reaction to key productions opening Off Broadway, regionally and abroad that appear likely candidates for further life on Broadway and/or elsewhere.

The new West End production of “The Wizard of Oz” seems a solid commercial draw, given its crowd-pleasing title, familiar songs from the movie version and the addition of new tunes by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Plus, star Danielle Hope won the role of Dorothy in a much-watched casting skein on Brit TV.

Reviews, however, were mixed, with Hope earning respectable notices opposite Michael Crawford as the Wizard and Wicked Witch Hannah Waddingham, who scored strong reviews overall. Tech and design also tended to get a thumbs-up, as did the canine playing Toto. But the stage version’s faithful recreation of the film evidently seemed more dutiful to reviewers than thrilling.

Here’s what the London critics said:

n “Although this adaptation … is quite an eyeful, it’s somewhat lacking in humanity,” wrote Michael Billington in the three-star review (out of five) in the Guardian. Robert Jones’ sets and costumes are “the star of the show,” he continued, and while Hope “shows a natural easy presence as Dorothy,” she “can’t hope to compete with the scenery.” Still, he was forced to acknowledge the commercial appeal: “I suspect in the end the show will be critic-proof,” before zinging that “it might have been so much more if it only had a heart.”

n Paul Taylor in the Independent was a bit more favorable, awarding four stars to the show. “Jeremy Sams’ production is a marvel of beguiling narrative fluency,” he opined, also praising Jones’ design work. He found Hope’s work decent, but thought she suffered in comparison to Judy Garland, while Crawford gets a shout-out for work he found “genuinely charming.” Still, he closes with praise of the West Highland terrier that plays Toto. “I found myself touched by the endlessly endearing Westmoreland terrier,” he wrote.

n Charles Spencer, in his three-star review in the Telegraph, kicks off his opinion by admitting he’s never liked “Wizard of Oz.” “If you like ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ you will undoubtedly like the stage version too,” he wrote, admitting to be charmed by the Munchkins, which he found “sweet” in this version, and, of course, by the “delightful white Westie” that plays Toto. Still, he wrote, “this finally strikes me as a soullessly efficient production rather than an inspired re-invention.”

n The Times’ Libby Purves gave the show four stars, finding Hope “sweetly naive and sincere.”

Ultimately she liked the second half better than the first, saying of the first act, “But for all the fabulous forest, and the glorious pipework and levers and dials of Oz’s lair, it didn’t move me,” adding “The second half takes off, being darker and nicely frightening.” Ultimately she acknowledged the strong commercial potential of the show, despite any flaws: “A predetermined hit.”

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