Mickey Rooney, in his first NY stage gig since Sugar Babies and first theatrical venture since a tour of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and a featured role in The Will Rogers Follies, will play the title role in an April 1998 stage revival of The Wizard of Oz.
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.
For the five-week Madison Square Garden revival, he'll co-star with Eartha Kitt as the Wicked Witch of the West. There will also be a brief U.S. tour, details of which are currently being worked out.
MSG's 1997 production, which starred Roseanne as the Witch, grossed more than $5 million.
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 Jessica Grove (pronounced gro-VAY) of Columbus, OH, played Dorothy. She was chosen from 300 hopefuls at an open casting call and will probably play Dorothy again in `98.
Ken Page, who played the Cowardly Lion in the original Broadway production of The Wiz, played the same role (with different songs, naturally) in Oz. According to an MSG spokesperson, Page is likely to play the Ghost of Christmas Present in this-coming season's A Christmas Carol, also at the Garden.
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 revival), played the Wizard. Judith McCauley, a veteran of NJ's Paper Mill Playhouse, played both Glinda the Good Witch and Aunt Em. Robert Johansen, of NJ's Paper Mill Playhouse, directed.
The Paper Mill/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.
Roseanne has received a Best Actress Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards for her TV series, which ended its run in May.
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.
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. The show is scheduled for a mini-tour in May 1998 and a New York premiere in August 1998.
--By David Lefkowitz