In 1902, L. Frank Baum turned his novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz into musical theater. The St. Louis Municipal Opera created a version in 1945 with a script adapted from the novel and the celebrated 1939 film, using most of the songs from that film. In 1987, the Royal Shakespeare Company created a somewhat different production more closely aligned with the film’s screenplay, and used almost all of the songs.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, together with Tim Rice and director Jeremy Sams, were responsible for yet another adaptation of the 1939 film’s screenplay. Rice and Webber also added several new songs to the film’s score. Some stayed. Some did not, which had pretty much been the film’s history from the beginning. Some changes seemed logical. Some, not so much.
Take, for instance, the on-again, off-again decision to cut the signature song from the film because the studio felt the film was running a little too long. Can anyone, today, think of The Wizard of Oz without Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”? Well, that very nearly happened. But, eventually saved from the cutting room floor, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” went on to win the Academy Award for Best 1939 Film Song (along with the rest of the score.) Later, it would receive the award for Best Film Song of the 20th Century. “The Jitterbug,” a fast-moving production number, was eventually cut from the film because it was felt that the timely boogie-woogie tempos used in the number would give the routine a dated flavor. It has been restored for this WBT on stage production.
By this time, The Wizard of Oz, on stage, on film and on TV has taken on an aura never imagined in 1939. The sweet, the dastardly, the comic and the adventurous all play a part. Dorothy and her dog Toto seek another land somewhere beyond the rainbow. A Kansas twister interrupts their reverie and swirls them up, up and away, finally landing them and their little house on the Land of Oz where Dorothy meets up with the scarecrow, the tin man, the cowardly lion and overcomes the initial obstacles of the Wicked Witch of the West. They are welcomed to Emerald City where they meet the fearsome disembodied head of the almighty Wizard who demands something from them in return before he serves up a brain, a heart, some nerve and a one-way ticket to Kansas. After another confrontation with the Witch who is disposed of by Dorothy, they find themselves back in Emerald City where the Wizard is unmasked by Toto. Nevertheless, he awards certificates