As Editor of In The Know Traveler, I love bringing far away places and culture a little closer to travelers deciding on their next adventure. However, I am sometimes so passionate about publishing personal travel experiences about these far away places that I forget to showcase some of the more familiar bits of culture. In this case, I forgot the importance of something as simple as seeing a play. I recently learned this in a big way while visiting London, England.
Last week, my traveling itinerary included Andrew Lloyd Webber’s newly opened stage version of The Wizard of Oz, which features Michael Crawford, the legendary stage performer from The Phantom of the Opera and Barnum among other plays, as the Wizard and newcomer Danielle Hope, winner of the 12-week BBC1 reality show, Over the Rainbow, which searched through 9,000 contestants to find a new Dorothy. Yes, I was off to see the Wizard – and a bit of English culture – at the famed London Palladium.
Even though it was a Tuesday night, the theater was nearly to capacity. Then the music started. While going into the details of the story of the Wizard of Oz may be redundant, there have been changes made to the original movie. New songs have been added and Webber and long-time writing partner Tim Rice have expanded upon some of the original score to make the stage production a full-fledged musical. This means more singing and dancing and both the Wicked Witch of the West and the Wizard have larger, more developed parts. While a momentary distraction, I appreciated the new additions to the score. And yes, Crawford still has the pipes.
As for the other performances, the actress playing Dorothy was the adorable, 17-year-old, runner up to Danielle Hope, Sophie Evans. While Hope does perform most of the shows, Evans is doing one performance a week. Ultimately, she sings. She dances. She makes for an earnest Dorothy. I was rooting for her. Not to be outdone, the Wicked Witch of the West may be the most memorable character. She cackled. She flew. She sent flying monkeys. I was rooting for her too — a little. I could not help myself. This Witch, Hannah Waddingham, offered an infectious tongue-in-cheek evil that kept me glued every time she was on stage — or flying above it.
I expected a lot out of The Wizard of Oz. How could I not? I grew up with nightmares of flying purple monkeys with the hope that I could one day protect Dorothy from all things wicked – and stop having nightmares about monkeys. Even with the high benchmark, I could not help but love this show from start to finish. The whole thing worked well. If I had one issue, I wish the second half of the show was longer. However, I feel the same about the original movie. Leaving wanting a little bit more is a good thing.
The final character, the Palladium, recently celebrated its centennial anniversary and has showcased international performers like Fats Waller, Bob Hope, Rosemary Clooney, the first Dorothy, Judy Garland and many other notable performers along the way. The Palladium remained the home of variety acts until 1960 when it became a full-time playhouse. It is a wonderful place to see a live performance.
Because the show has an indefinite run, I recommend trying to grab up tickets sooner than later. Later this week, I see Romeo and Juliet in Stratford upon Avon, the home of Shakespeare, at the newly completed Royal Shakespeare Company. More on this performance coming soon.
To learn more about the Wizard or to buy tickets visit the Wizard of Oz, the Musical