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Tuesday, Nov 25, 2014
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‘Wizard of Oz’ stage production has new songs for Clearwater

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“The Wizard of Oz” certainly is one of the most beloved childhood tales.

But the touring production, dancing Tuesday into Ruth Eckerd Hall, will offer a few extra surprises along the yellow brick road.

Of course, Dorothy, her dog Toto, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion still travel through the magical land of Oz to meet the wizard and receive their hearts’ desire, but they’ll do so to new music by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

“This is such an iconic film, there’s great respect to the original story and the original script,” said Madeline Paul, associate director of the touring production. “However, as a vehicle for the stage, the film had to be reexamined with more imagination and music.”

L. Frank Baum’s classic tale tells the story of Dorothy, a girl from Kansas who is carried by a tornado with her dog, Toto, to the magical land Oz. There, she meets Scarecrow who needs a brain, a Tin Man who needs a heart and a cowardly Lion who wants courage.

Webber and Rice, British composers best known for hit musicals “Cats,” “Evita,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” keep all of the iconic characters and songs from the Oscar-winning film score by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg,but collaborate on five new songs.

Along with favorites such as “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” “Over the Rainbow,” and “Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead,” the production includes a new song “Nobody Understands Me,” which is designed to introduce an angst-driven Dorothy to the audience.

“We wanted to introduce (Dorothy) to the audience,” Paul said, adding Danielle Wade, the actress who plays Dorothy, has an “extraordinary” voice. “And she is like any young girl today who thinks that nobody understands her, and she is experiencing discontent with her life on the farm in Kansas.” Another big new song, “Red Shoes Blues,” has the Wicked Witch obsessing about getting back her ruby slippers. The Good Witch, Glinda, also has a show-stopping ballad called “Already Home.”

“There really were no songs for the Wicked Witch or Glinda,” adds Paul, whose theater credits include “Cats,” “Showboat,” “Mama Mia!” and “The Sound of Music.” “And they are such important characters in the story.”

Even Professor Marvel (The Wizard’s alter ego in the Kansas prologue) gets his moment in the musical spotlight with a number called “Wonders of the World,” which he sings when he realizes Dorothy is a young runaway.

The well-known story also gets a dose of new special effects, set designs and costumes for the stage production, said Paul, but she didn’t want to give away too much.

“It’s still fresh and still a visual treat, with so many magical moments,” she added. “And yes, there is still flying.”

Paul said she loves how the new production has been received and how it continues to appeal to all generations.

“It’s such a simple story built on imagination,” she adds. “And you still wind up asking yourself, ‘Did it really happen, or was it a dream?’ But whether you are an adult or a child, you can’t imagine not being on the journey with her and feeling like a kid again.”

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