Who better to greet The Wizard of Oz than the Mayor of Gotham?
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani will emcee a public media event, Mar. 16, 11 AM (EST), to welcome the Madison Square Garden production of Wizard back to New York (May 1-31). The event takes place outside Madison Square Garden's 7th Ave. entrance.
Oz star Mickey Rooney will introduce the Mayor of "Oz" -- Giuliani - who will then bring on Jessica Grove's Dorothy to sing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow." At that point, the Wicked Witch (Eartha Kitt) appears in a cloud of smoke to tell Dorothy (as the press release puts it) "she'll never return to Kansas; she'll remain in New York City forever."
A fate even more horrifying awaits the Witch, however; Giuliani will slap her with a ticket for jay-walking across the Yellow Brick Road.
With Oz, Rooney, of Sugar Babies renown, is making 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. Kitt 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 90-minute musical uses the Harold Arlen-Yip Harburg score from the 1939 film musical. In the 1997 mounting, 15-year-old Grove (pronounced gro-VAY) of Columbus, OH, played Dorothy. She was chosen from 300 hopefuls at an open casting call and will play Dorothy again in `98.
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.
MSG's 1997 production, which starred Roseanne as the Witch, grossed more than $5 million.
In last year's Oz, Michael Gruber was the heart-less Tinman; Lara Teeter, a Tony nominee for On Your Toes, was the Scarecrow. Gerry Vichi (who played Wally Womper in the How To Succeed Broadway reviva ed the Wizard. Robert Johansen, of NJ's Paper Mill Playhouse, directed.
Before its NY return, The Wizard of Oz has been playing the huge Rosemont Theatre just outside Chicago's O'Hare Airport since Mar. 1 and continues there through April 5. For information, call (312) 559-1212.
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"). The Witch has no songs in the piece, but, as performed by Margaret Hamilton in the film, the role made a memorable impact.
The MSG theatre, bolstered by the success of its now-perennial Christmas Carol, said it is hoping to build Oz into an annual event.
In other MSG theatre news, Walter Bobbie will direct a stage version of Footloose, based on the hit 1984 film starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Lori Singer and Kevin Bacon. The show is holding auditions in mid March on the way to a premiere at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in the fall.