“The Wizard of Oz” at London Palladium

Mark Shenton in the West End
7 July 2023

“Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore,” Dorothy tells her dog, after a hurricane has blown them far away from home in The Wizard of Oz, a quest musical that sees them having to embark on a strenuous journey of discovery and recovery as they then seek to find their way home again. Along the way, they pick up a Scarecrow, a rusty Tin Man, and a Cowardly Lion, all of whom are on their own journeys to gain missing qualities to enable them to live fuller lives.


Jason Manford and Ashley Banjo.
Photo credit: Marc Brenner.


This ear-splittingly loud and eye-poppingly garish production is a brand-new take on the 2011 stage adaptation of the 1939 MGM film classic, best known still for the young Judy Garland’s yearning song “Over the Rainbow” that would become one of the all-time standards of the American songbook.

The original Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg songs from the film have been effectively, if not entirely seamlessly, augmented with new ones provided by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, reuniting for their first sustained collaboration since their slew of late sixties and seventies hits Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Evita.

Nikolai Foster’s new staging of The Wizard of Oz was first seen at Leicester’s Curve last Christmas, and is brisk, confident, and beautifully cast. At the centre of it all of course is the ruby-slippered Dorothy of Georgina Onuorah, who brings a pensive, vulnerable quality to her role but a fully confident vocal attack. She is beautifully supported by the talents of Jason Manford’s equally vulnerable Cowardly Lion, Ashley Banjo’s effortlessly comic Tin Man, and Louis Gaunt’s sublime physical elasticity as the Scarecrow. As ever, Gary Wilmot commands the stage in his brief appearance as the Wizard of Oz.


Jacqui Dubois and Geoffrey Aymer.
Photo credit: Marc Brenner.


They are joined by show-stealing Dianne Pilkington as the Wicked Witch of the West (swapping out of the role of Glinda the Good Witch of the North, which she’s played in the long-running West End hit Wicked that’s inspired by The Wizard of Oz) and the thrillingly trilling Christina Bianco as Glinda.

It’s not just the casting of Palladium panto stalwarts Wilmot, Banjo, and Gaunt that reminds one so obviously of the venue’s now annually revived Christmas tradition (whose headline star Julian Clary was seated across the aisle from me on the first night). It’s also the design aesthetic, which foregrounds blinding light displays (Ben Cracknell), giant video projections (Douglas O’Connell), and amped-up sound (Adam Fisher) complementing the somewhat perfunctory physical sets by Colin Richmond. These feature four moving platforms that join together to make the Yellow Brick Road on which they journey to the neon approximation of Times Square, where billboards include shows called “The Phantom of Oz” and “The Lahr King” (a nice reference to Bert Lahr, who originally played the cowardly lion in the film).

It’s sometimes more panto than musical, but as a summer stock(ing) filler for the Palladium, it fits the bill.


The ensemble.
Photo credit: Marc Brenner.