With wonderful music, larger-than-life costumes, and an ensemble that just won’t quit, The Wizard of Oz is your standard West End production – designed to dazzle.

Credit: Marc Brenner

The Wizard of Oz is written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams, which he adapted from the adored 1939 movie, which is based off L. Frank Baum’s well-loved children’s book – this is a massively-loved, meaningful 123 year-old story with many spinoffs and adaptations. It carries a lot of weight; unfortunately, the Palladium’s production sags a bit.

There are many wonderful things about the show, beginning with the music. The composition by Harold Arlen is extremely moving, and the lyrics by E.Y. Harburg are perfect renditions of the movie songs with new ones added. The musical numbers are absolutely the best part of the show.

Credit: Marc Brenner

The star-studded cast brings a great joy to the production. Having seen her not too long ago at her one-woman show, I couldn’t wait to see Christina Bianco as Glinda – and what a performance she gives! Her voice is as stunning as ever, and she makes for the perfect Glinda the Good. Louis Gaunt as the Scarecrow (and Hunk) is instantly charming and lovable, and to top it off, is a fantastic singer and dancer. Jason Manford as the Cowardly Lion (and Zeke) provides the most comic relief as the endearing lion. He delivers the cheap but had-to-be-done line, “I am a proud friend of Dorothy” to a cheering audience. Ashley Banjo as the Tin Man (and Hickory) is, of course, a crowd-pleaser; he received a roaring cheer after his number. It is so cool to see street dancing on a West End stage. A street dancer who can sing and act might have been a tall ask, but Banjo delivers more than satisfactorily.

Georgina Onuorah in the titular role of Dorothy falls a little flat for me. Her voice is stunning, and ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ did give me chills, but I did not see much emotional range in her acting. Dianne Pilkington as the Wicked Witch of the West (and Ms Gulch) has the opposite problem; she is weirdly almost silly, with a high-pitched voice and almost kid-like thrill. She is not remotely scary or menacing. Gary Wilmot gives a faultless performance as the charismatic Professor Marvel and the Wizard of Oz – though he has had plenty of practice as he has played the Wizard in Wicked.

Credit: Marc Brenner

For how huge it is, the stage is not always filled. Having a more 3D set and props would provide a two-birds-one-stone solution because it would also eliminate the need for the awful video projections (by Douglas O’Connell). Looking like a 2000s video game, the video designs astounded me so much that I almost couldn’t believe that they were made in 2023. Confusingly, while the four friends travel down the yellow brick road to Emerald City, the projections show them traveling through Kansas. I’m not sure if the designers were aiming for the Dorothy-is-dreaming route, but the bottom line is even if they were, it is inconsistent with the rest of the set.

I know The Wizard of Oz isn’t supposed to make sense; that’s what makes it so great. But, elements of this show (especially the set design by Colin Richmond) don’t consistently not make sense. Some aspects are weirdly and inconsistently modernised (e.g. Glinda having a remote instead of a wand, she and the Wicked Witch of the West driving motor scooters, references to West End productions on the billboards in Emerald City). These modern technologies take away from Oz The Great and Powerful’s tech, which is supposed to be completely mind-blowing. Oz is meant to be a completely different world, and these modern references take away a bit of its sparkle.

To borrow a quote from my friend who saw the show with me, The Wizard of Oz is so West End. Clearly, a ton of creatives, effort, and money have been poured into this show, but unfortunately the production falls flat. Had more effort been put into developing and coordinating the story, instead of splurging on things like costumes (which, to be fair, are magnificently designed by Rachael Canning) and poor designs, maybe it would be a more well-rounded show. Nonetheless, you can’t deny the moving score, the beloved characters, or the campness of The Wizard of Oz.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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