In 1995, just a few years before taking to the ice, the MGM adaptation of The Wizard of Oz was presented in a format which has since proven successful with such other musicals as Les Miserables and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version of The Phantom of the Opera. The Wizard of Oz in Concert: Dreams Come True was performed in New York in aid of the Children’s Defense Fund.
The show featured a veritable constellation of stars from the entertainment world, headed up by popular singer and musician Jewel Kilcher (billed simply as “Jewel”) as Dorothy. Joel Grey (who had worked with Judy Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli in the film Cabaret) took the title role as well as that of Professor Marvel, who narrated the story to the capacity audience at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Dorothy’s three traveling companions were played by singer Jackson Browne as the Scarecrow, Roger Daltrey of The Who as the Tin Woodman, and Nathan Lane, the voice of The Lion King‘s Timon the Meerkat now promoted to King of the Forest as the Cowardly Lion. Lucie Arnaz (whose mother Lucille Ball once played “Tin Lizzie” in a Wizard spoof on Donny and Marie Osmond’s variety show) was Auntie Em and singer Natalie Cole played Glinda. The scenery-chewing Wicked Witch of the West was brought hysterically to life by Debra Winger.
As for Toto, he was played by a member of the Boys Choir of Harlem, who were one of many musical acts who backed up the featured performers. Reprises of the musical’s key songs were performed in special arrangements by Phoebe Snow, Ronnie Spector, Ry Cooder, saxophonist David Sanborn, and Dr. John. The whole production, boasting comparitively little action, but plenty of spectacle, was “dreamed” up by co-directors Louis J. Horvitz and Darrell Larson.
As with the full stage play, “The Jitterbug” was reinstated and gave Jewel the chance to not only show off her singing acumen– including a heretofore unknown talent for scatting!– but to join in with a dancing troupe and prove she could do the full show if need be.
The performers were uniformly excellent, and managed to present new takes on characters so strongly identified with the actors who played them in 1939. Jewel evoked Judy Garland without imitating her, while the rest, particularly Lane and Winger, made the characters their own.
The full orchestra, images on a large screen showing various artists’ renditions of the story– including the work of W.W. Denslow– and the heartfelt reprise of “Over the Rainbow,” performed at the finale by the entire ensemble, delighted the crowd, drawing thunderous applause and no doubt much support for the Children’s Defense Fund.
So find yourself a video copy of this gem starring a Jewel, pop some popcorn and enjoy a new take on an old classic.