Oz Cast Goes Back to School - With a 'Yip'

News   Oz Cast Goes Back to School - With a 'Yip' E.Y. "Yip" Harburg. His name may not be as famous as Gershwin or Sondheim, but his lyrics are: "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime," "If I Only Had A Brain," and "Somewhere Over The Rainbow." The latter two are from his collaboration with Harold Arlen on the film -- and now the musical -- The Wizard Of Oz.

E.Y. "Yip" Harburg. His name may not be as famous as Gershwin or Sondheim, but his lyrics are: "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime," "If I Only Had A Brain," and "Somewhere Over The Rainbow." The latter two are from his collaboration with Harold Arlen on the film -- and now the musical -- The Wizard Of Oz.

To honor Harburg, whom Oscar Hammerstein once called "one of the great American lyricists of this century," the cast of the current Wizard Of Oz will be honored in a May 30 ceremony at NYC's Public School 19 (the "Arthur Levy School") on First Ave. And 11th St. The school's auditorium will be officially dedicated as "the Yip Harburg Auditorium." Why? Not only is the school two blocks from where Harburg grew up on the Lower East Side, but the composer's grandson, Ben, is a fourth grader there. Ben and his father Ernie (author of the memoir, "Who Put The Rainbow In The Wizard Of Oz") and mother, Deena Rosenberg (a founding chair on NYU's Musical Theatre Program) will attend the musical ceremony.

Stars from Wizard Of Oz will sing tunes from the show, and they'll join the school's first-to-sixth graders in singing other Harburg classics. Roseanne is not expected, but co-stars Jessica Grove' (Dorothy), Lara Teeter (Scarecrow), Gerry Vichi (Wizard) and Judith McCauley (Glinda) will take part.

With tickets moving at a rate of nearly 4,000 a day, seats became scarce for the new stage version of The Wizard Of Oz, at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. The big audience draw of TV's Roseanne (as the Wicked Witch), helped the musical to extend its run, from a closing date of June 1, to June 8. A further extension, to June 15, was anticipated but did not materialize. However, production spokesperson Beth Hergenhan (of MSG) said plans are already being finalized for next year's return, and a tour of the show will definitely happen. Details on the tour are expected in early July.

With Oz revenues already reaching $5 million, the producers are also planning a U.S. mini-tour this fall, with a return to Madison Square Garden at this time in 1998. Roseanne has been appearing on NY area TV commercials cackling in the triangular hat, eerie light slashing across her face. The actress' famed TV show, "Roseanne," presented its hour-long final episode June 20. To commemorate the event, the cast of Oz presented her with an onstage cake following the May 20 performance.

The 90-minute musical Wizard began previews May 7 and opened May 12. It uses the Harold Arlen-Yip Harburg score from the 1939 film musical.

Fifteen-year-old Jessica Grove (pronounced gro-VAY) of Columbus, OH, plays Dorothy. She was chosen from 300 hopefuls at an open casting call. Grove' has already played Dorothy -- at Columbus Junior Theatre -- and is currently starring in Yours, Anne at Columbus College's Canvani Center.

Ken Page, who played the Cowardly Lion in the original Broadway production of The Wiz, gets to play the same role (with different songs, naturally) in this production. Page also originated Old Deuteronomy in Cats and embodied Fats Waller in Ain't Misbehavin'.

Michael Gruber, a current cat in Cats, will be the heart-less Tinman, while Lara Teeter, a Tony nominee for On Your Toes, will be the Scarecrow. Roseanne, of course, came to fame as the wisecracking "domestic goddess," whose Emmy-winning, self-titled TV show is in its last season.

Gerry Vichi (who played Wally Womper in the recent How To Succeed Broadway revival), will play the Wizard. Judith McCauley, a veteran of NJ's Paper Mill Playhouse, will play both Glinda the Good Witch and Aunt Em.

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The Paper Mill/MSG staging is 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.

Roseanne has received a Best Actress Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards for her TV series, now in its ninth year. "Roseanne is a one-of-a-kind artist," producer Tim Hawkins said in a statement, "a lightning rod to many, but undeniably an important voice and a marvelous actress. She prommises to be a formidable Wicked Witch. We think she and our audiences are going to have a great time."

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.

Wizard will run 90 minutes, a bit shorter than the Paper Mill version. The show has not yet been cast but will be directed by Paper Mill artistic director Robert Johansen, who staged the piece at his home theatre. James Rocco choreographs, Paper Mill resident designer Michael Anania will do the set, Gregg Barnes will design the costumes, and Tim Hunter will create the show's lighting.

Paper Mill spokesperson Dennis Dougherty told Playbill On-Line the producers are hoping this Wizard Of Oz will be an annual production, like MSG's Christmas Carol. "They're taking a new design and a new approach to the show because of the possibilities of Madison Square Garden. I mean, the tornado at Paper Mill was done with lighting, strobes, and they flew a miniature house across the stage. Who knows what they can do at the Garden..."

In other MSG theatre news, Walter Bobbie has been signed to direct a stage version of Footloose, based on the hit 1984 film starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Lori Singer and Kevin Bacon. Dan Schoenberg, the Garden's director of publicity, had no further information on the show (e.g., casting, adaptation team) but did say the goal is to open the show spring or summer 1998 and then take it on tour -- much as they're doing with Oz.

For tickets ($19-$54) and information on The Wizard Of Oz, call (212) 307-4111.

--By David Lefkowitz

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