The Gloves are off
Some of you will be aware of the debate generated on the Guardian’s Theatre blog about bloggers reviewing previews. Andrew Lloyd Webber, no doubt bruised after his experience with ‘Love Never Dies’, seems to have found a solution. He invited that lofty arbiter of the arts The Sun into the first preview of the show. End of debate? Well, here is our belated review for your consideration…..
….And did we mention, it’s a preview
Before the show had even begun, we were given an extended ‘team-talk’ by Bill Kenwright, standing in for the Director. We were reminded at great length that this is a preview, that the show is ‘massive’ and full of technical wizardry that might go wrong. We were promised what a great show it was going to be, and reminded how important it was for us to clap and cheer and sing along with the performers. We thought for a moment that we were a studio audience listening to the warm-up act, and that idiot boards exhorting us to ‘clap’ would appear at key points in the show. We say team talk, because we could almost tick off each persuasive technique as it was employed – forced teaming, unsolicited promises, too many details, and all delivered in charming manner. Sadly, Kenwright made one schoolboy error – he gave away the result of the Everton & Chelsea match.
We’re off to see the Understudy
The main point of this speech was to inform us that sadly Michael Crawford would not be appearing as the Wizard. Now, we did not come to the show to see Michael Crawford, or indeed Danielle Hope. We are probably in a small minority of people who went because of Edward Baker-Duly and Hannah Waddingham. We would have been quite happy to see an understudy. However, we were informed by Bill Kenwright that, due to this being a preview, the understudy was ‘not ready’. Yes, that is right. The 13th preview and the understudy is not ready. Even the contestants on ‘Over the Rainbow’ had to learn a song a week. Of all the people who might require an understudy, you might think that the 69 year old actor, making his return following a 5 year battle with ME, would be a prime candidate. But we were mistaken. Apparently it is acceptable for a paying audience to watch an understudy reading and singing from a script. Our incredulometer remains at defcon one.
Why ‘The Wizard of Oz’?
Andrew Lloyd Webber claims that this show has ‘never really translated on stage before‘. Those who have seen the 2008 production of the show in Madison Square Garden or the RSC staging in 1989 might disagree. But even so, why keep flogging a dead horse? We think this has more to do with the iconic status and popularity of the film. We were promised a version more faithful to the book, with Oz as a real place, but save for a very unoriginal ‘twist’ at the end, the story is more or less the same. As for the additional material, perhaps there was a reason why Professor Marvel didn’t have song in the film – it holds up the action pointlessly. It is fair to say that Hannah Waddingham’s turn as the witch provides some light relief, but it does not exactly move the story forward – she has established her wickedness quite successfully by then. We were sure we heard some Mussorgsky in there as well, but we couldn’t find a credit on the website. Perhaps it’s in the programme.
Bill Kenwright promised us a spectacle so incredible that it would take a fortnight to wipe the smile off our faces. Clearly a lot of money had been spent on the set and designs, and the double-revolve was put to good use. But the essential ingredient, imagination, was missing. The CGI sequences suffered from having too many technical possibilities and not enough judgement, hence we have a projection of the house spinning in space like the tardis at one point. The aerial work and ‘effects’ were hardly ground-breaking especially when viewed from the upper circle. We felt as though the tone veered from panto to musical and back again. Whatever the intention, the result was indecisive.
Her performance in the film of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ turned Judy Garland from an experienced young actress into a star. Here we have a manufactured star, Danielle Hope, who was met with rapturous applause when she walked onto the stage, by virtue of her TV popularity. Ironically, if she had been an unknown and part of an ensemble cast, she would have blended in quite well – it is the attempt to set her up as a star that fails. ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ comes and goes without incident. The brightest moments for us were Edward Baker-Duly as the tin man, and Hannah Waddingham as the wicked witch of the west, no surprise for us as we had seen them before – on stage. We sense that Michael Crawford’s understudy would have made a good job if he’d had a chance to learn the part. We don’t know his name.
Yes, it’s a preview, and there are another 7 previews to go…..
But a week is unlikely to fix the basic flaws – at our preview Toto appeared to be settling down for a snooze at one point, and there were moments when we wished we could have done the same.
[update 23.2.11 - more reviews and comments starting to come in - check out Theatremonkey]