A complete guide to 'The Wizard of Oz' in the West End

From the origins of The Wizard of Oz musical, to the all-star cast in the 2023 iteration, here's your ultimate guide to The Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

Follow the Yellow Brick Road to the London Palladium this summer! Yes, The Wizard of Oz is back in the West End, as Leicester Curve’s hit revival gets a much-anticipated transfer featuring a starry cast — and the little dog Toto too…

This particular stage musical version of the beloved tale features Harold Arlen and EY Harburg’s music from the iconic 1939 movie, including the stirring “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Plus, there’s new musical additions from the all-time-great writing team, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

So, click the heels of your ruby slippers together three times. Read on for our wizard guide to the original tale, its rich adaptation history, and what you can expect from this blockbuster London Palladium production.

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The origins of The Wizard of Oz

We first met Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, the Wicked Witch of the West, and all the rest of the gang in L Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s novel, which began his series of Oz-set books. The story, which was an immediate hit, sees Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto wrenched away from Aunt Em and Uncle Henry’s Kansas home in a cyclone, and transported to the magical land of Oz.

Dorothy’s flying house lands on, and kills, the Wicked Witch of the East — much to the joy of the Munchkins. The Good Witch of the North gifts Dorothy her silver shoes and tells her to follow the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City, home of the great and powerful Oz. Along the way, Dorothy befriends the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. The trio of unlikely heroes want a brain, heart, and courage, respectively.

Oz agrees to help them all — if they kill the Wicked Witch of the West. They fend off her attacks until her Winged Monkeys manage to capture them. But Dorothy manages to defeat her with a bucket of water, causing the witch to melt. However, on meeting the Wizard again, they realise he’s a fake. So how will they get back to Kansas? It falls to Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, who finally reveals that Dorothy’s silver shoes can take her home: all she has to do is tap her heels together and wish.

The Wizard of Oz on screen

Given the huge popularity of Baum’s tale, it wasn’t long before The Wizard of Oz became immortalised on screen — first by Baum himself in a 1980 multimedia presentation. But it’s the 1939 MGM technicolour movie that we all know and love, and which cemented the Oz legend. Starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, it had a then-exorbitant $2.7 million budget, but that eventually paid off: the film won two Oscars and became a cinematic icon.

Key to its success is the streamlined telling of Baum’s story, the clever framing of its fantastical adventures as a dream — making it appealing to an adult audience — and, of course, the glorious songs by Harold Arlen and EY Harburg. They include “Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead,” “If I Only Had a Brain,” “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” and the Academy Award-winning “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

There have been other Ozian adventures on screen: a 2005 Muppets version, a Tom and Jerry adventure, and film versions of musicals The Wiz and – coming soon – Wicked.

The Wizard of Oz on stage

Baum created the first theatrical Oz production based on his novel, featuring music by Paul Tietjens. This more adult version of the tale, which included political satire, was a Broadway hit in 1902. Various other incarnations followed, such as a 1942 production incorporating songs from the MGM movie.

In 1974, Charlie Smalls and William F Brown premiered The Wiz: a contemporary, African-American take on Baum’s Oz story with catchy songs like “Ease on Down the Road.” It moved to Broadway the following year and won seven Tony Awards, including Best Original Score and Best Musical. The 1978 film adaptation starred Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, while the 2015 US TV special The Wiz Live! featured Ne-Yo, Mary J Blige, Queen Latifah, Uzo Aduba, and Amber Riley.

Another significant fresh take on the Oz tale came via Gregory Maguire’s novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. The 1995 book later became Wicked — a smash-hit musical by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman. It tells the story from the point of view of the “wicked” witch Elphaba and her little-known friendship with the “good” Glinda. Still going strong in the West End (and currently featuring two Black actresses in those key roles: Alexia Khadime and Lucy St Louis), it’s also being turned into a pair of Hollywood movies, starring Cynthia Erivo and Ariana Grande.

What to expect from The Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium

The London Palladium production is the 2011 stage musical, which uses all of the beloved songs from the film and adds some new tunes from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The original Dorothy, Danielle Hope, was cast via the BBC reality TV competition show Over the Rainbow. Ted Lasso star Hannah Waddingham originated the role of the Wicked Witch of the West, and The Phantom of the Opera’s Michael Crawford played the Wizard.

The musical was a success at the London Palladium, and played over 500 performances, before subsequent tours in America and Australia. In 2022, it was revived at Leicester Curve by Nikolai Foster, and it’s the Leicester production that brings The Wizard of Oz back home to the Palladium. Georgina Onuorah (previously Ado Annie in the West End’s Oklahoma!, and the alternate Cinderella in Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella) leads the show as Dorothy.

The Palladium cast also features Jason Manford as the Cowardly Lion, Ashley Banjo (of Britain’s Got Talent-winning dance troupe Diversity) as the Tin Man, Gary Wilmot as Professor Marvel and the Wizard, Louis Gaunt as the Scarecrow, Christina Bianco as Glinda, and Dianne Pilkington — no stranger to Oz, as a former Glinda — playing the Wicked Witch.

Expect a spectacular production at the whopping West End venue, showcasing this starry company, and a heart-warming telling of Baum’s enduring tale. This summer, there’s no place like the Palladium.

Photo credit: The Wizard of Oz (Photo courtesy of production)

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