The Wizard of Musicals, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Talks to

By Mark Shenton
02 Mar 2011

Obviously we're about to see what happens to The Wizard of Oz in the West End, but how do you see it playing out in America?
ALW: I don't know what exactly we'll do at the moment, but I'm in quite advanced talks now with more than one U.S. network about doing the TV casting show over there, it having worked so well over here. There's a question in America, of course, if you are going to do a show like that, "Why if you live in Oklahoma would you vote for a girl who is going to be on the stage on Broadway?" So one of the things we want to do in doing this TV show is to try to work out what kind of end-game from the television point of view would be the best thing.

That might well be that we do a gala night of the whole thing in Kansas, or we do a television special out of Kansas; whatever happens, it is very heavily a theatrical production, it would have to go to a big theatre, but not necessarily on Broadway: one of things about Oz is that it is such a well known tale and a completely American story, so it doesn't depend on going to New York. The original musical did back in 1903 or whatever it was, and in fact I think if I'm not much mistaken it may have even opened the theatre where the Phantom is, the Majestic. It was the theatrical version of it that gave the book a huge new impetus, and apparently [the book's author] L. Frank Baum didn't like it particularly but once he started getting the royalty checks he seemed to change his mind!

People have changed their minds about the reality TV casting shows, too, haven't they? When they first launched, people like Trevor Nunn and Cameron Mackintosh spoke out against them, but then Cameron actually did his Oliver! casting through it and Nunn cast a Pop Idol winner in his production of Gone with the Wind.
ALW: We've been very, very blessed with the people we've found. The public chose right every time. Fourteen of the contestants we've had were working full-time professionally in leading roles in the West End last Christmas. What it also has done is open up to people like me a prodigious talent that simply would never ever have come through my door — there is not one chance in anything that Danielle Hope, who is playing Dorothy, would have come to my attention! Never! And yet talk to Michael Crawford [who is playing the Wizard] about her — a consummate pro like him says she's just extraordinary.

Finally, are you working on your next original musical yet?
I haven't found anything I want to do at the moment. I don't want to rush into anything I have all sorts of ideas, but maybe it might be an idea to take a rest from musical theatre and do a piece like my Requiem mass was, which was a great break for me from everything. I'd just done Cats and Starlight Express and was about to come up with Phantom, and I don't know if I would ever come up with Phantom if I hadn't done Requiem first. So I'm looking at some Jewish poems I came across that were written in the Warsaw ghetto, at the moment — I just don't know if I'm capable of doing them, but I'm thinking about it.

(Mark Shenton is's London correspondent. He is also theatre critic for the U.K.'s Sunday Express and chairman of the drama section of the U.K. Critics' Circle. You can follow him on Twitter @ShentonStage.)