One of the most beloved movies of all time — 1939’s The Wizard of Oz — turns 75 this year.
That film, so filled with now-iconic performances, is the most famous treatment of novelist L. Frank Baum’s 1900 book The Wonderful World of Oz. But it isn’t the only one, not by a long shot.
Baum’s story of Kansas farm girl Dorothy Gale and her adventures in the wondrous, scary land of Oz has been spun into movies, television shows and stage productions. Then there’s the 2003 Broadway megahit Wicked, which elevated the Wicked Witch of the West (rechristened Elphaba) and Glinda the Good Witch to stardom while barely paying attention to Dorothy.
But for the next two weeks, beginning at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dorothy will reclaim the spotlight as the touring production of The Wizard of Oz brings a classic story and the latest in high-tech stagecraft to Fort Lauderdale’s Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
The new stage Wizard of Oz was adapted from the movie by Andrew Lloyd Webber (yes, that Andrew Lloyd Webber) and director Jeremy Sams. It features most of the film’s famous Harold Arlen-E.Y. “Yip” Harburg songs, plus some new ones by Lloyd Webber and his most famous lyricist, Tim Rice.
Naturally, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the Wizard and Toto are all key players alongside the show’s star, Danielle Wade as Dorothy. But in this production, which originated in Canada, the witches — maybe because of the higher profile Wicked gave them — get more musical stage time, giving The Wizard of Oz additional girl power.
Wade won her starring role in a most 21st century way, on the reality TV show Over the Rainbow. She was studying theater at the University of Windsor when she got a Facebook message about the competition. During the fall of 2012, she survived cut after cut, including one in which Lloyd Webber winnowed the field down to a top 10 in Barbados. Her first order of business after being named the winner? Sing Over the Rainbow, a song forever identified with the movie’s Dorothy, Judy Garland, on live television.
“Dorothy is such an iconic role, but you can’t let that get into your head. You can’t say, ‘I need to be Judy Garland.’ You’re playing Dorothy Gale, not Judy Garland,” Wade says from a tour stop in Greenville, S.C.
Similarly, Jacquelyn Piro Donovan has created a Wicked Witch of the West different from Margaret Hamilton’s, and Robin Evan Willis isn’t channeling Billie Burke as Glinda the Good Witch.
“I’ve been lent a hand by the costume designers and Andrew Lloyd Webber. They have augmented the witch in ways that are surprising,” says Piro Donovan, whose witch owes her verdant complexion to a MAC cosmetics shade called Landscape Green. “She’s got the nose and the chin, she’s green and not pretty, but the costume is slightly more sexy, and her new song [ Red Shoes Blues] has some sexuality to it.”
Still, though her Wicked Witch can be get laughs, she isn’t reinventing the wheel in her interpretation.
“Danielle said to me, ‘You really do scare me.’ It’s a fine line between funny and menacing,” she says.
Of Glinda, Willis says, “She’s still a fairy godmother sort of person. But she’s a reimagining of the Glinda in the film. We owe a little [stylistically] to Wicked: I wear a blue ballgown covered in Swarovski crystals. ... The witches are pulled into the forefront of this show.”
Wade, now 21, is making her professional theater debut in The Wizard of Oz. Already, she has done a long run in Canada, and now she’s seeing the United States on tour. She was halfway through her university studies when Over the Rainbow changed her life, and though she’d like to finish her degree eventually, she’s certain that she wants to continue performing. And she does have one role in mind.
“I’d love to play Elphaba in Wicked,” she says.