Oz on the West End, Hayley Alice Roberts

You’ve gotta go there to come back- Oz on the West End, Hayley Alice Roberts

So I am shattered, I have just endured a gruelling bus journey from Aberystwyth to London and Vice Versa in the space of a day…and was it worth it?! HELL YES!! Andrew Lloyd Webber’s brand new adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz” was outstanding amongst many other things.
I went in with high expectations and wow it lived up to more than that. Last year I had followed the BBC reality series “Over the Rainbow” from beginning to end, which was the search to find the perfect contender to play the lead character of Dorothy, originated by the legendary Judy Garland in the 1939 film version. Initially when Danielle Hope won the programme I was slightly disappointed as I was in favour of Sophie Evans, the runner up to win as I felt she had been the contender who had grown the most out of the finalists and worked the hardest to constantly improve her performance; however after last night’s fantastic performance I now realise exactly why Danielle deserved the part! Her version of Dorothy was much more fiery and she added charm and vulnerability to the role, her version of “Somewhere over the rainbow” sent shivers down the spine.
“The Wizard of Oz” has always played an essential part in my childhood, I used to watch the film over and over again, I knew all the songs and its probably one of my most quoted movies. As far as the stage version’s concerned I have only ever seen local amateur and student productions, I saw it twice as a child, once on the Aberystwyth Bandstand and then in the Aberystwyth Arts Centre, more recently I saw another amateur production of the show there, but none of them can even compare to the epic-ness and magic I saw before me last night.

The show’s quality was almost cinematic, most notably the use of a revolving stage that helped the scene’s transcend into each other smoothly, I had seen this effect done before when I attended a performance of “Dirty Dancing- The Classic Story on Stage” last summer, it is such a clever technique to use in theatre and makes the experience all the more spectacular. What made the show even more cinematic was the use of CGI especially in the storm sequence, it encouraged the audience to be interactive with the action, there were a lot of special effects in the show such as real fire used and the witch stunningly flying over the audience. I liked the use of colour and lighting in the production, the sepia tone and brown colours of Kansas echoed the film’s opening, other productions have never made this effort resulting in no contrast with the bright colours of Oz, I loved how the stage lit up brightly when the famous yellow brick road made its appearance. I was glad Andrew Lloyd Webber stayed mostly faithful to the original but also liked that he added in his own touches. There were some new songs included written by lyricist Tim Rice, that slotted in perfectly, I think Webber wanted the audience to engage into other characters such as the Wicked Witch of the West and the Wizard as well as our main heroes through achieving this. One of my favourite songs from the musical which is not actually included in the film version is “The Jitterbug” it takes place during the woods scene before the witches castle; I like the intensity of the song and it has a jazzy sound to it, Webber did omit this from the stage version which left me slightly disappointed as its my favourite moment in the show, instead he replaced it with a number called “Red Shoes Blues” sang by the Wicked Witch, in which she casts voodoo on Dorothy so that she’ll dance until she dies leaving the witch to reclaim her sister’s ruby slippers, it still gave out a rather unsettling tone similarly to “The Jitterbug”. I think Webber added this song also due to competing with the ever-popular “Wicked” that is also currently on the West End, I’ve yet to see it but from what I can gather from it is the Witch isn’t just portrayed as your regular villain, she has a back story, she has motives for why she’s so wicked which did shine through in this version, the audience needs to empathise with her just as much as the protagonists as each character has a motivation, they all desire something Dorothy (a home), The Scarecrow (a brain), Tin Man (heart) Lion (courage) and for the witch its her ruby slippers. Even though I could see why this was done and I did enjoy it I would have personally have still liked to have seen “The Jitterbug” performed.
The sets were just incredible, the witches castle had a Victorian Steam Punk style to it and the flying monkeys looked almost demonic, making it much darker than any other version. Also the emerald city had a 1940’s New York and Broadway look, portrayed with the tall buildings and the fashion, evidently a hint to that style of show which “The Wizard of Oz” is, the characters are unaware that they’re in a musical but that particular set represented the classic interpretation we have of how most musicals look. There was new humour added into the show, most notably in the scene where Dorothy is saying goodbye before she returns to Kansas, she says to the Scarecrow “I think I’m going to miss you most of all”, nothing is questioned, but in this version the lion and tin man are put out by this and respond with “what about us? oh fine then” or something along those lines. For the first time in any version I have seen I wasn’t annoyed with the Lion’s character, I think in this version he is very underplayed and thankfully he doesn’t sing that irritating song in the emerald city about being king of the forest! I think every single cast member in this production gave strong performances so I can’t particularly single anybody out, I was so impressed with every element.
Regarding the mythology of Oz I have always been confused, I thought Oz was just a dream Dorothy had when she was knocked unconscious in the storm, but since “Wicked” emerged I had wondered how did that story work pre-Dorothy if Oz was something created out of one individual’s imagination?! Then I realised during the beginning of the film, the title card insists the audience is open minded, now I believe Oz is truly a real place (within the mythology- not real life!) which was done nicely in the show, as in the ending sequence Dorothy is on the bed with her dog Toto, suddenly her wardrobe doors fly open to reveal her slippers. Magical.

I think what appeals to me about the “Wizard of Oz” as a whole is that it gives out a strong message, metaphorically. You have to go there to come back, things aren’t always what they seem and you don’t realise what you have till its gone, I think most people can relate to this in life, I don’t think I appreciated my home town until I left for a short period and the grass wasn’t greener on the other side.
All I am going to say is that I recommend everyone to see this show if they get a chance, it is absolutely spectacular and well worth the cost, its a theatrical experience I will never forget. Its a visual masterpiece! 10000000/10! 😛
Here is a preview, trust me, you’ll be going straight to London once you see how stunning this is: