An even more-tuneful 'Wizard of Oz' heads into the Academy of Music

As they go down the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy and friends sing new Webber/Rice tunes in the version at the Academy of Music.
As they go down the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy and friends sing new Webber/Rice tunes in the version at the Academy of Music.
Posted: May 30, 2014

ADDING NEW songs to the score from the 1939 film version of "The Wizard of Oz"? Isn't that akin to painting earrings and sunglasses on the Mona Lisa?

That's what David Andrews Rogers thought.

But not anymore.

"When I was first offered the project, I approached it with a little uncertainty, thinking, it ran well in London, and ran well in Toronto, but we're talking America, we're talking about a group of people who really take, not just fondness for, but ownership of, this iconic film," said Rogers, who on Tuesday hits the Academy of Music as musical director for Andrew Lloyd Webber's stage version of what is arguably the most beloved American film of all time.

But then, he added, he heard the four new songs that Webber and wordsmith Tim Rice conjured for the show and changed his mind. These pieces include:

* "Nobody Understands Me": "It's an establishing song for Dorothy," Rogers explained. "When I first heard it, I thought, 'Oh, that's always been in the film as underscoring; they just wrote lyrics to it' because it sounds so much like the film. But it's a new song."

* "Wonders of the World": "It's an establishing song for Professor Marvel. It's beautiful and it's sweeping, yet it's a 'character number' for this character that we fall in love with as Professor Marvel, and who we know we'll meet later as the Wizard. It becomes a great conversation piece between the Professor Marvel character and Dorothy."

* "The Red Shoes Blues": "It's quite a showstopper and a wonderful way to start the second act. They've given the Wicked Witch a wonderful star turn all conjured up by her powers, and all stemming from her frustration at not getting those damn shoes."

* "Already Home": "At the end of the movie, there's a really beautiful moment when Glinda [the Good Witch] is telling Dorothy she's always had the power to go home: 'Just click your heels together.' That's always felt a bit rushed. In the stage version, we're able to linger in that moment and allow Glinda to really tell Dorothy explicitly the lesson she is meant to have learned by all this.

"The lyric by Tim Rice is brilliant: 'Home is a place in your heart.' Well, hello! That's the point of the whole thing. It may not sound like a song [that film composer] Harold Arlen wrote, but it certainly sounds like something Glinda would say."

Speaking of the appropriateness of the added material, Rogers said that Webber has not cloned Arlen's work, but, "I feel like, in contributing additional material to this project, he kind of dropped himself into a late-1930s, early '40s sensibility, and seems to have channeled that sensibility."

In terms of the story, Rogers pointed out that the film's brain trust targeted children. As such, it had to be no longer than 90 minutes in duration, and it couldn't be too dark or melancholy, for fear of turning off its intended audience. However, he suggested, Lloyd Webber and Co. faced no such limitations. As a result, the supporting characters' pathologies are brought to the fore.

"This gives audiences a chance to really see what Dorothy is going through - and the Witch, too," Rogers said. "She's not just angry, she's been obsessing about [her deceased sister's ruby slippers] since she was a child. Her sister got them instead of her, and now her sister's dead and she had a shot at getting them back, and this young upstart from God-knows-where has come in and nabbed her shoes.

"We don't really get that in the film. In the film, Margaret Hamilton's character is just mean."


Academy of Music, Broad and Locust streets, Tuesday through June 8, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. June 7, 1 p.m. June 8, $20-$115.50, 215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org.

Mason settles in

Marsha Mason is back in New Hope. Last year, the acclaimed actress starred (opposite Marilu Henner) in "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife." Through June 15, she's directing "Chapter 2," which her ex-husband, Neil Simon, wrote about their ill-fated marriage.

When the run ends, Mason will put on her actor's hat to star in the comedy-thriller "Deathtrap," which runs June 19 through July 13.


Bucks County Playhouse, 70 S. Main St., 215-862-2121, bcptheatre.org.

Oops

In last week's review of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," we erroneously identified Joilet F. Harris as the understudy in the role of Miss Jones during the opening night performance at the Walnut Street Theatre.

In addition, we neglected to credit co-writers Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert.


Phone: 215-313-3134

On Twitter: @chuckdarrow

Blog: philly.com/Casinotes

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