Welcome back to Access London, thank you once again for your continued support for disability access and awareness.
Today's post is the last in our 2-part series on Andrew Lloyd Webber's, The Wizard of Oz at The London Palladium.
Before Wizard hit the stage at the Palladium, there was a massive investment in the disabled access to this iconic venue. This is obvious in the newly decorated access corridor which is accessed next to the main entrance steps to the theatre on Argyll Street. There is a new lift which can take a mobility scooter or wheelchair, carer/companion and a member from the front of house team to the stalls level in the theatre. There are a couple of fairly shallow slopes along the way but, apart from those, it is level and flat access all the way to the back of the stalls.
The stalls themselves are on a slightly steeper rake (although certainly not the steepest I have seen at a London theatre). There are several spaces for wheelchairs at the back of the stalls where a carer/companion can sit in the same row. Or, if you can transfer out of your chair, any aisle seat in the stalls in accessible to you. Wheelchairs and scooters can be stored at the back of the stalls and someone can bring them to you at the end of the show. If you would like a drink at the interval, this too can be arranged to be brought to you at your seat. There is also an accessible toilet in the area that the wheelchairs and scooters are stored during the performance.
This is a fantastic night out for the whole family, kids young and old! It sees the winner of BCC1's Over The Rainbow, Danielle Hope, in the role of Dorothy (with the runner up, Sophie Evans playing Dorothy every Tuesday) and also Michael Crawford's return to the West End stage. For more information about the show itself, please scroll down to yesterday's post where you can also read an interview with Sophie Evans.
Access London has been lucky enough to catch up with a couple of cast members from Oz and today's Q&A is with Paul Keating who plays Hunk and The Scarecrow....
AL: How did you get the part of the Scarecrow? Was it a long audition process?
PK: I first heard about Wizard of Oz coming to the West End when I was asked to play the Scarecrow in a short workshop of the new script, nearly a year before the West End opening. The workshop lasted a week and was held at The Really Useful Group's offices in Covent Garden. The Director, Jeremy Sams, asked for me - although we'd never worked together before, he'd seen me in a couple of other shows. It was no guarentee of being in the final production, but flattering to be asked. Some months later, when auditions began for the West End cast, I was asked to come and do a couple of movement calls with Arlene Phillips. I think in the space of 10 days I did 2 dance calls and also had to sing for Andrew Lloyd Webber and the team (most of who had seen me in the workshop). A day or two later, I was offered the part.
AL: The Scarecrow's costume in the production is fantastic. How long does it take to get ready and in make-up?
PK: It's a quick change for me. I only have about 7 minutes to get out of Kansas costume and wig and into Scarecrow costume and make-up. It's got quicker with practice but, there's no time to relax. The make-up ladies who do my face for me are amazing. They make a possibly stressful moment feel calm and fun.
AL: Just as in the film version of Oz, the actors playing the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion also play Dorothy's family in Kansas. Does the rest of the production stay fairly true to the film or were you given the freedom to adapt things?
PK: I was given complete freedom to recreate the role which was brilliant. I read the book and liked the idea that the Scarecrow is only a matter of days old. I have tried to make him like Bambi - bounding around with energy and enthusiasm. I don't think he's stupid at all, just rather naive and unworldly. Jeremy, the director, has always been supportive and steered me in certain directions, but from my point of view I have felt able to do my own thing.
In terms of the production, I think the creative team have been really imaginative and inventive. There's lots of new things to enjoy in the show, but fans of the film won't be disappointed either, as the iconic moments we all know and love remain.
AL: The cast of Oz range from those who have been working in the business for many years to those whose first professional role this is. What is it like working in a company like this?
PK: I love it. There's always lots to learn when you're surrounded by people with more experience. It's also nice to feel you can offer support to those who are a bit newer to it all. I can certainly relate to Danielle, who has been thrust into the limelight. My first role was the title role of the West End production of Tommy, it was a baptism of fire. I hadn't been to drama school either and was picked from a series of 12 auditions. I loved it but was rather like a rabbit in the headlights alot of the time. She has so much maturity, confidence and skill, I'm a little bit in awe of her. I wish I had had a bit more of that when I was starting out at age 19.
AL: What is it like working on an Andrew Lloyd Webber production?
PK: It's a very exciting experience. There's a well-oiled machine at work from the very start, ensuring things run as smoothly as possible. They've so many productions under their belt at RUG that I have felt more confident than ever before that I am in a musical with the best possible chance of succeeding - commercially and artistically.
AL: If you could play any role(s) in musical theatre, what would it/they be?
PK: I have always dreamt of playing Che in Evita. It was one of the first musicals I ever saw. I think it's Andrew's best to date and would give anything to sing those songs.
Access London would like to offer a huge Thank You to Paul for taking the time to answer our questions, I hope you enjoyed reading his responses as much as I did.
To book Access tickets to see Wizard of Oz, please call: 020 7087 7960/0844 412 4648.
COMING SOON: The London Eye, London Eye River Cruise, Tate Britain, Access London celebrates 25 years of Phantom of the Opera.