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Further Stage Adventures in Oz, Part Forty-eight: Return to Toronto

Danielle Wade and Stephanie La Rochelle in their audition dresses and SILVER shoes.
Danielle Wade and Stephanie La Rochelle in their audition dresses and SILVER shoes.
Photos property of the Really Useful Group Ltd.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Wizard of Oz had its British premiere at the London Palladium on March 1st, 2011, directed by Jeremy Sams (who had collaborated with Lloyd Webber on the script) and with choreography by Arlene Phillips. The cast included Danielle Hope as Dorothy Gale and Michael Crawford as Professor Marvel and the Wizard, with Paul Keating as Hunk and the Scarecrow, Edward Baker-Duly as Hickory and the Tin Woodman, David Ganly as Zeke and the Cowardly Lion, Emily Tierney as Glinda, Hannah Waddingham as Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West, Helen Walsh as Aunt Em and the Munchkin Barrister, and Stephen Scott as Uncle Henry, the Head Guard, and someone called Philippe.

Hope’s fellow Over the Rainbow winner Sophie Evans became her understudy, as well as doing regular performances during the weeks of the show’s initial run. Toto was portrayed by no less than four dogs.

Robert Jones designed the sets and costumes. The latter were of course designed mostly around the lines of those in the MGM film, but with stylistic differences which ranged from the teenaged Dorothy wearing overalls in the opening sequence (changing into the more familiar gingham frock later) to the Tin Woodman looking not unlike his counterpart in The Wiz, with a torso resembling an oil drum.

As for the sets, they seem to have left greater impressions on many audience members then even the show itself, and not all of them favorable. One reviewer likened Jones’s Emerald City to how an inebriated man might see the lobby of New York’s Chrysler Building. With typical British cynicism, some reviewers decried the spectacle of the show as overshadowing the narrative, but others praised the performers, especially Crawford.

The former Phantom, who not long before had rallied from myalgic encephalomyelitis, a frightening form of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, departed the show at the same time as Danielle Hope. His role was taken by Russell Grant and later by comedian Des O’Connor, while Sophie Evans moved up to the starring position.

Soon after the British show closed in September of 2012, a Canadian production got underway, and even did its own reality show covering its casting of Dorothy; it's interesting to note that the contestants wore silver shoes! The winner of that competition was, curiously, another Danielle, this one with the surname Wade. Her runner-up, and subsequent understudy, was Stephanie La Rochelle.

The Canadian production was performed in Toronto, the home of James Doyle and Joe Cascone’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Its cast included Cedric Smith as Professor Marvel and the Wizard, Jamie McKnight as Hunk and the Scarecrow, Mike Jackson as Hickory and the Tin Woodman, Lee MacDougall as Zeke and the Cowardly Lion, Robin Evan Williams as Glinda, and Lisa Horner as Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West.

“But what about the actual music?” You may well be asking by now.