Musicals. Hmm. It’s all a bit kitch. All a bit too slick. Too smiley. Too happy…for cynical old me.
I loved Starlight Express and The Lion King and Mumma Mia and The Phantom one – before I hit puberty. Then it was The Doll’s House, King Lear and A Streetcar Named Desire that got me trundling to the West End with my pocket money (or ‘allowance’ as it had then become).
Now I hear the word ‘musical’ and all I think is this: packed auditoriums full of children and tourists and sweat and merriment and I just can’t handle it. As I said, it’s all a bit too much for cynical old me.
And then I was handed a pair of tickets to West End show, The Wizard of Oz. And this presented me with a very great dilemma. On the one hand, I love the theatre (always have, always will) and have never turned down tickets to see anything, ever. On the other, well, it’s just the musicalness of it. And it was on a Tuesday. And could I really be bothered?
Stop being lazy. You’re rude and ungrateful. Take the tickets.
Arm in arm with my dear friend L, we braved the screaming, gleeful hoards of the London Palladium.
The conductor took to his stand, smiled at the audience and waved his baton.
Deep breath. The overture began.
‘Yes, that’s nice,’ I thought to myself, ‘I’d forgotten that tune was in it. Oh, and that one too. I do love a yellow brick road. And yes, “If I only had a brain” how much easier life would be! And see, you’re out of the woods, you’re out of the dark, you’re out of the night…Hold onto your head, hold onto your heart, hold onto your hope, march up to the gate and bid it open…open…”
That was it. I’d had it.
Cheesy? Oui. Like ze finest French brie. Colourful? Si. And the singing is pitch perfect and all a bit sickly. And the gags are ‘slap my thigh and chortle loudly to show them I GETTIT’ sort of funny. But the show in its entirety is really quite splendid. Skittles “Taste The Rainbow” Ad plus Pleasantville equals TWoO. Live. For two hours.
And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, snow started falling from the ceiling (some of it’s still in my bag now and I think I even found some in my bed earlier too). And just when I thought it couldn’t get any louder, a witch hovered above my head with a loud speaker. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any more musical, I heard my-very-own-voice bellowing ‘OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD!’ at the top of my lungs, clapping gaily in time with the audience (my nemesis – nothing is that good).
It just sort of swept me away.
And that’s not only cos I’m a skirt. Men readers, mark my words, you’d get swept away too. One word: Toto. The living breathing actual dog. The one that barks on cue, that walks on the yellow brick treadmill, that doesn’t seem to mind being manhandled by Dorothy or tied to a giant daisy or chirped at by a chorus of Munchkins. It wags, it jumps, it sits, it lies… I almost expected it to talk. It’s also very sweet to look at, and if musicals really aren’t your thing, watching it can take up quite a lot of the time.
There were, of course, some things wrong with the show. Des O’Connor, for example. Not him, per se, just him as “the famous person”. It’s almost like the audience are so surprised a famous singer can sing that they feel they must applaud this revelation with gusto. I used to do a bit of amateur acting myself once and had some twit got a bigger clap and a better position at the curtain call than me, simply for “being famous”, I’d have made quite sure the entire company knew the true meaning of the word ‘diva’, and I would not have let them forget it neither.
Similarly, it didn’t work that Tuesday appeared to be ‘accents optional’ night. Pick an accent – English/American/Cornish – and go with it. We may not be in Kansas anymore, but that doesn’t mean we’re in AmerEngCorn either. It’s also 15 minutes too long, but now Im just being persnickety, there’s little else to criticise.
So really do go and see TWoO (I love that abbreviation – did I invent it, does anyone know?). If not for any of the above, go for the story itself. I had forgotten quite how comforting Dorothy and the lessons she learns actually are. The scarecrow has a brain all along, the tin man has a heart, and the lion does have courage – adorable!
As I barged my way through my front door, flustered from the post-theatre tube rush, hot and laden with bag, I found myself finding yet more affinity with Dorothy (which, as you read this from your office desk TP reader, Im sure you’ll agree is true): There really is no place like home.
By Beenie Langley