A reviews round-up of The Wizard of Oz, which has opened at the London Palladium starring Ashley Banjo and Jason Manford.
This new version of the classic musical The Wizard of Oz originally premiered at the London Palladium in 2011, and features the Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg songs you know and love from the movie – including Over The Rainbow, Follow The Yellow Brick Road and We’re Off To See the Wizard, plus new songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.
Nikolai Foster (Billy Elliot The Musical, A Chorus Line) directs this new production of the show, which originally premiered at the Leicester Curve.
The show’s cast includes Georgina Onuorah as Dorothy, Jason Manford as The Cowardly Lion, Ashley Banjo as The Tin Man, Dianne Pilkington as The Wicked Witch of the West, Louis Gaunt as The Scarecrow, Christina Bianco as Glinda The Good Witch, and Gary Wilmot as The Wizard/Professor Marvel.
The full cast is completed by Ben Thompson (as Toto), Annie Southall, Charlotte St.Croix, Claire O’Leary, Eamonn Cox, Emily Ann Potter, Geoff Aymer, Harrison Wilde, Jacqui Dubois, Jessica Daley, Jonathan Dryden Taylor, Lauren Stroud, Marley Fenton, Michael Lin and Sam Stones.
Joining Foster in the creative team of The Wizard of Oz are: choreography by Shay Barclay, Set Designer is Colin Richmond, Projection Designer is Douglas O’Connell, Costume and Puppet Designer is Rachael Canning, Lighting Designer is Ben Cracknell, Sound Designer is Adam Fisher, Creative Consultant is Mark Kaufman, Musical Director and Musical Supervisor is George Dyer, Casting Director is Kay Magson CDG, Props Supervisor is Marcus Hall Props and Wigs, Hair and Makeup Designer is Elizabeth Marini.
The Wizard of Oz playing at the London Palladium until 3 September 2023.
Read reviews from the Guardian and Evening Standard and more, with further reviews to be added.
The Wizard of Oz - UK & Ireland Tour reviews
"Over the rainbow and into an arcade game"
"This adaptation has a luminous performance from Georgina Onuorah as Dorothy and some great ideas but throws too much at the audience"
"This turbo-charged revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams’ musical adaptation serves up a hybrid theatre-cum-cinema experience."
"The central conceit for the story is inspired: Dorothy (Georgina Onuorah) is an outsider, at odds with the community in Kansas, which might be gesturing to America’s pre-civil rights history of segregation, and all its exclusions. She is innocent yet steely, and Onuorah has a truly glorious voice, leaving us with goosebumps in her numerous renditions of Over the Rainbow. But the kinetic screen and relentless bigness of Harold Arlen’s music (with additional music by Lloyd Webber) often swallows up everything around it."
"Gary Wilmot makes a convincing Wizard and Louis Gaunt is a great Scarecrow, balancing the role of loose-jawed simpleton with quicksilver, soft-boned movement. Ashley Banjo, as the Tin Man, and Jason Manford, as the Cowardly Lion, are less remarkable."
"But the biggest standout is Toto the dog, an utterly gorgeous puppet (controlled by Ben Thompson) and counterpoint to all the hi-tech wizardry on stage."
"If ever a whiz of a Wiz there was, this isn’t quite it"
"The sets are bling, the cast good, but this suffers by comparison with both the film and the stage spin-off Wicked – and why open it now?"
"The other thought related to Wicked – and one reason why it’s arguably able to run year-round – is that as a stage-show The Wizard of Oz struggles to hold its own."
"Nikolai Foster casts the vocally powerful actress Georgina Onuorah as the young heroine, and has her belting out Somewhere Over the Rainbow on a lonesome highway. The 2011 additions by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice usefully bulk up an original score (by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg) that ran out of puff halfway through."
"Effectively, the time-honoured appeal of L Frank Baum’s story carries the day, and what must keep us sated is the theatrical spectacle. In this, Foster spares no effort, almost over-compensating for the musical’s relative slightness."
"Children will love much of this – the digitised army of helmeted helpers for Dianne Pilkington’s snarling Wicked Witch are just the ticket"
"... there’s plenty of appealing zest from Louis Gaunt, Ashley Banjo and Jason Manford as the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion. The leads give it their all, without you ever fully feeling the jeopardy of the situation. Something remains missing in action."
"Finally, a Wizard of Oz that doesn’t give me the creeps"
"A fun, uncomplicated traipse through Oz should do well with families"
"Michael Harrison, who produces the Palladium’s Christmas pantos, has worked his popular touch on The Wizard of Oz. This makes the story less sinister than the 1939 Judy Garland film, which gives me the creeps."
"Ashley Banjo from the dance troupe Diversity cuts robotic shapes to portray the Tin Man’s rust problems and is given a short rap song. He can barely sing a note, but never mind. A cackling Wicked Witch of the West (Dianne Pilkington) zaps underlings with her fire-breathing broomstick"
"Jason Manford uses his comedic gifts to good effect as the Cowardly Lion, Louis Gaunt makes a handsome Scarecrow and Gary Wilmot, seemingly wrapped in golden Bacofoil, is the Wizard. Amid all these japes and alongside a brilliantly manipulated dog puppet, Georgina Onuorah’s Dorothy becomes slightly lost. She overdoes her first bash at Over the Rainbow, fighting the band for volume domination, and she underdoes the reprise."
"The loudest musical I have experienced in a long while"
"The Wizard of Oz is rebooted by Andrew Lloyd Webber from the classical film into a 1950s retro-futurist world."
"Behind a series of Deco frames the rear wall acts as a screen for dizzying videos depicting twisters, Kansas farmland, the Yellow Brick Road as if we were watching a giant television set."
"What it lacks in charm and innocence it more than makes up for in blockbusting, ear-bursting, eye-popping razzamatazz."
"Dazzlingly bright revival for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage spin on the classic movie"
"Crashlanding onto the stage of London's Palladium, this high-octane 'Wizard of Oz' promises to obliterate the wicked witch of school holiday boredom, banishing her memory in an all-consuming explosion of video projections, perky songs and old-fashioned sap. It's certainly not subtle. But kids will complain that TikTok feels too slow after a few hours in its exhilarating company."
"The standout performances here are the most vocally accomplished. As Dorothy, Georgina Onuorah delivers a subtle, rich 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow,' its wistful tone a welcome contrast with the score's bombastic newer songs. And Christina Bianco is an enchanting good fairy Glinda, whizzing about on a Barbie-pink Vespa and bringing spine-tingling operatic flourishes to her role. Their performances insert some much-needed heart into Nikolai Foster's bells-and-whistles-filled production."
"A relentlessly professional piece of entertainment"
"In this time of stupid culture wars it’s good to see a ruthlessly commercial adaption of the story which is also inclusive"
"Andrew Lloyd Webber’s adaptation of the iconic 1939 musical film fantasy is a relentlessly professional piece of entertainment, with the feelgood sentiment bolted on. Georgina Onuorah’s full-throated, tough-cookie Dorothy yomps through a steampunk 1950s version of Oz that also has overtones of contemporary late-stage capitalism, mostly created through back projection and garish costumes."
"It all feels a bit hollow beneath the shiny exterior, like the Tin Man’s chest cavity. But, as I said of Lloyd Webber’s Joseph also at the Palladium before Covid: resistance is useless."
"None of it makes sense. But that was never the strong suit of Baum’s book, or the film, which are both basic and striking enough to allow for endless interpretation. And in this time of stupid culture wars it’s good to see a ruthlessly commercial adaption of the story which is also inclusive. And which, so close to Pride, acknowledges what Dorothy’s rainbow came to mean to a whole host of her friends."
"Director Nikolai Foster knows that, if you’re presenting a beloved musical at The London Palladium, you either have to go big or go home. While The Wizard of Oz also proves that yes, there’s no place like home, Foster has also wholeheartedly gone big in this neon-lit Americana extravaganza of a revival, which looks like a tribute to equal parts God’s Own Junkyard and MGM backlot."
"Steely, earnest and bold, her [Georgina Onuorah] “Over the Rainbow” is performed with skilful panache, with Onuorah imbuing the number with a deep-seated sense of desperate longing."
"Household names fill out supporting roles – Jason Manford is a marvellous Cowardly Lion... Ashley Banjo gets to flex his famed dance moves as the Tin Man, while Louis Gaunt, now a Palladium regular thanks to its sell-out pantomime, is all bluster and endearing blunder as the Scarecrow."
"Efficient rather than inspired"
"Confused revival lacks magic but is saved by star performances"
"Foster’s production, with souped-up orchestrations adapted by George Dyer and lively choreography from Shay Barclay, has some powerful moments, maintaining the central battles of good versus evil and self-confidence over self-doubt, which were the main themes of Baum’s original. But some of the wistful nuance and the magic seem to have been lost along the way."
"Georgina Onuorah is undoubtedly a determined Dorothy, but there’s little sense of the child about her."
"Where this production triumphs, however, is in its star casting. Louis Gaunt as the Scarecrow and Ashley Banjo as the Tin Man both demonstrate diverse dance styles that enhance their characters, Gaunt fluid and romantic, Banjo deploying precision robotics to fantastic effect. Jason Manford is hilarious as the Cowardly Lion, and, although he only appears for the briefest of moments, Gary Wilmot brings warmth and charm to the dual role of Professor Marvel and the Wizard."
"The Wizard Of Woke (but at least the lion is a roaring success)"
"This Wizard Of Oz at the Palladium is loud, crass and migraine-ish. Kids may love it, I didn’t. Moreover, Dorothy’s little dog Toto is a puppet that moves uncannily like a dog but looks like a diseased badger. There’s no substitute for a properly stage-trained cairn terrier in my book."
"Georgina Onuorah’s Dorothy has a good voice – she nails Over The Rainbow – but is a bit over- confident in the role immortalised by the vulnerable Judy Garland (who once played the Palladium). Dianne Pilkington never knowingly underacts as the Wicked Witch, and Christina Bianco’s Barbie-doll Glinda rides a pink scooter."
"... the show is almost rescued by Jason Manford’s Cowardly Lion, clutching his tail and blubbing endearingly. Ashley Banjo’s Tin Man robot breakdance got the youth vote in my row."