Mickey Rooney, Eartha Kitt and Ken Page star in a 90-minute stage adaptation of the 1939 musical film The Wizard of Oz, currently on a US national tour that takes them to The Theatre at Madison Square Garden in New York May 1-31.
Opening night, May 6, will feature introductory remarks by MSG president David Checketts and actor Kevin Bacon. (What's the six degrees here? Probably that MSG is a partner on an upcoming musicalization of Footloose, which made Bacon a film star.)
Also expected at the Oz opening night are Paul Simon, Spike Lee, Robin Leach, Peter Boyle, Malik Yoba, Danny Aiello and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
With Oz, Rooney, of Sugar Babies renown, makes his first NY stage appearance since a featured role in The Will Rogers Follies (1993). Rooney is best known for his film work in Babes in Arms, National Velvet, The Black Stallion, Bill and the Andy Hardy film series, opposite Judy Garland. Garland, of course, starred as Dorothy in the film classic on which this stage version is based.
MSG spokesperson Geoff Cohen relayed an amusing Rooney incident that occurred while the tour was in Chicago: "When Mickey takes off in the balloon at the end of the show, he's in the basket, which is constructed with cables attached to the rim. Two guys on the floor hold the ropes to keep him from taking off. So Mickey's supposed to lean forward and wave goodbye to everyone, and he says `I really don't know how this thing works' and "You're spoiling my exit!' But this time, one of the floor guys held on to the ropes too long, so the basket flipped over, and Mickey was hanging upside down, holding onto the railing, twelve feet above the ground. It was a dangerous situation, but what did he do? Not only was he as cool as you could ask for a person to be, he looked up at the audience and said, `I guess I'm not leaving quite yet... You see I really don't know how this thing works!'" As for co-star Kitt, she made her Broadway debut in New Faces of 1952, before which she was a Katherine Dunham dancer. She later played the cat Mehitabel in the musical Shinbone Alley, based on the "archie and mehitabel" [sic] stories. She has since become a fixture in the cabaret world.
The musical uses the Harold Arlen-Yip Harburg score from the 1939 film classic. MSG's 1997 production, which starred Roseanne as the Wicked Witch, grossed more than $5 million.
The Judy Garland role of Dorothy is being played again this year by Jessica Grove (pronounced gro-VAY) of Columbus, OH. She was chosen for the first production in 1997 from 300 hopefuls at an open casting call.
Ken Page, who played the Cowardly Lion in the original Broadway production of The Wiz, also returns to MSG's Oz. Page has been playing the Ghost of Christmas Present in MSG's A Christmas Carol.
Judith McCauley, a veteran of NJ's Paper Mill Playhouse, again will play both Glinda the Good Witch and Auntie Em.
Tickets for The Wizard of Oz in New York are on sale now at $19 $59. Tickets are available through the Garden box office, all Ticketmaster outlets, Ticketmaster Charge By Phone or by calling The Wizard of Oz hotline at (212) 307-4111. Ticketmaster: (212) 307-7171, (201) 507-8900, (516) 889-9000, (914) 454-3388 and (203) 624-0033. All tickets purchased through the Madison Square Garden Box Office or Ticketmaster are subject to a surcharge of $2. Ticketmaster purchases are also subject to a service charge.
After Madison Square Garden, The Wizard of Oz will resume its 1998-99 tour. Here are the scheduled cities, as of May 6:
May 1-31: New York, The Theatre at Madison Square Garden
June 5-28: Toronto, Canada, Hummingbird Centre
July 2 - Aug. 2: San Francisco, Orpheum Theater
Aug. 6-16: Calgary, Canada, Jubilee Auditorium
Aug. 20 - Sept. 6: Columbus, OH, Palace Theatre
Sept. 10-27: Tampa, Performing Arts Center
Oct. 1-18: Orlando, Bob Carr Performing Arts Center
Oct. 22-Nov. 8: Atlanta, Civic Center
Nov. 12-29: Phoenix, Gammage Center
Dec. 3 - Jan. 3, Vancouver, Ford Center
Jan. 7-24: Minneapolis, Orpheum Theatre
Jan. 28 - Feb. 7: Boston, Wang Center
Feb. 11-28: Cleveland, Playhouse Square: Allen Theatre
March 4-14, 1999: TBA
Based on the Oz books by Frank Baum, Wizard Of Oz is best known for its 1939 Judy Garland film incarnation and its adaptation into the Stephanie Mills starrer, The Wiz.
The Paper Mill Playhouse/MSG staging was adapted by John Kane from the film screenplay, maintaining the score by Harold Arlen and E.Y. ("Yip") Harburg ("Somewhere Over The Rainbow," "If I Only Had A Brain"). In the Oz film and in last year's Roseanne incarnation, the Witch had no songs in the piece. This time, according to a PBOL reader who saw Oz in Detroit, Kitt now sings "The Jitterbug," a song cut from the film. The reader also notes that verses cut from "Over The Rainbow" and "If I Only Had a Brain" have been reinstated for the stage version.
The MSG theatre, bolstered by the success of its now-perennial Christmas Carol, said it hopes to build Oz into an annual event.