The Seventh Avenue entrance to Madison Square Garden had a patch of yellow bricks in front of it on Monday (16), set off with an arch of multi-colored helium balloons (read: rainbow). Yes, we were off to see the wizard . . .
And a new wizard at that. That outsized Munchkin, Mickey Rooney, has finally graduated to the role -- in a stage version of The Wizard of Oz which is touring the country for the next 15 months. It will double-back to Madison Square Garden in six weeks and spend the entire month of May (1-31) there.
The Mick's co-star, Eartha Kitt, was late-arriving -- in a poof of smoke. She has inherited from Rosanne the role of the ultimate high-flying heavy -- The Wicked Witch of the West -- and her well-known feline voice adapts quite well to the called-for cackles. "The scariest yet," one promoter promised. "And you should see me fly," she postscripted backstage. "I love the flying part."
Sixteen-year-old Jessica Grove, who originated the role of Dorothy Gale in last year's edition, stepped forth -- Toto in tow -- and delivered "Over the Rainbow" in a heartfelt fashion.
The photo-op, decorated with a colorfully costumed assortment of Munchkins, also featured Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the Mayor of Munchkin City. There was a furious exchange of keys to the city as well as honorary mayorships. No sooner had the actor playing the Munchkin City mayor been designated NYC mayor-of-the-day than he put in a special request: "I suppose this would be the time to ask for Ranger tickets." One of the announced scheduled events -- Giuliani ticketing Kitt as she jay walked across the yellow brick road -- was mercifully canceled. Instead, Kitt just did her melting/disappearing act ("What a world! What a world!") and was done with it.
Bob Dorian, who ordinarily hosts old movies on the American Movies Channel, emceed much of the event -- he plays Uncle Henry in the production -- and he identified Rooney as "an American movie classic all by himself." Dorian went on to point out that Rooney has some legitimate claim to the role -- that when the movie premiered in New York in August of 1939, he and the film's star, Judy Garland, worked up a special stage show that accompanied the feature into the now-long gone Capitol Theatre.
Tipping his MGM pedigree more, Rooney reminded folks that he had done nine movies with Judy and had co-starred in The Human Comedy with the man who originated the title role in The Wizard of Oz, Frank Morgan. The two actors also appeared together in Summer Holiday, the 1948 musical version of Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! -- Morgan as the boozing uncle, Rooney as the lovestruck adolescent. Again, it was a role Rooney grew into; he had appeared in the 1935 non-musical version, playing the subteen younger son. Rooney, who leaves New York tomorrow, doubts if he'll make it up to Lincoln Center to see its revival of Ah, Wilderness! -- having already "given at the office."
-- By Harry Haun