Grab some lucky shoes and follow the yellowbrick road — a new production of “Wizard of Oz” opens this week at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts.
From the brilliant mind of Andrew Lloyd Webber, the classic tale of a girl who rediscovers the meaning of home on a colorful journey through the Land of Oz is re-envisioned with bright, bold costumes, a new set and a few new original songs.
Before the show opens this Wednesday, we wanted to get the scoop on the national tour, the new songs and what audiences can expect. Lee MacDougall, who plays Lion, was kind enough to fill us in. Read our full Q&A below.
How does Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of ‘Wizard of Oz’ differ from the original?
It’s not that different — it’s still the same story that everyone knows. Anyone coming to see the show will still be very entertained. It’s the same story following Dorothy through her same journey, same characters that she meets on the way. The only difference is that in the original film, it starts out as a musical and has a lot of music but then halfway through, they just stopped music. So it’s not really a classical musical structure in that it starts as a musical and then once they get into the Wicked Witch’s territory, there are no more songs. It just becomes a film. So what they’ve done in this version is they’ve actually made it into a real musical so there are songs throughout the story, in the structure of a musical. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice have added about four songs that just fill it out a little bit. We’ve kept all the original songs from the film and just added about four more to make sure there’s music throughout the full story.
What can you tell us about those new songs from Rice and Webber?
Yeah, it’s the original duo from “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Joseph,” and all those other great shows. (The songs) are fun, they’re in the style of the show. Everyone in Kansas has a song in the beginning of the show that sets up kind of her frustration, why she might run away kind of thing. And then when she meets Professor Marvel, he has a song. And there is a new song for the witch in Act 2, about her desire to get the red shoes and it’s a big production with all the Winkies and it’s a great, great number. And then near the end of the show, Glinda has a song about Dorothy getting back home and about how there’s no place better than home, that everyone joins in on. Those are the four new ones. And then other than that, it’s still the same, original songs from the film.
You’ve been with the show since its inception. How have you seen it change since then?
Well, we’ve had a few cast changes, so that does change the show along the way. When we get to St. Paul, we’ll have a new Wizard of Oz – a great guy from Canada named Jay Brazea. There were a few changes made – the show sat in Toronto for eight months – so when we moved on to the tour, they changed the set a little bit, just to make it a little more touring friendly. … Not too much has changed though. It’s a pretty big tour – we bring our own floor and all the special effects that come with the show. We have a new music director, so the performance of the music has changed a little bit. We do have a new Wicked Witch. Each time a new character comes in it changes, the show morphs a little bit – always for the better.
What were your initial reactions the first time you were introduced to this production?
I was quite astounded by the design of the show – the designer has done an amazing job. It’s very fantastical, the design and it’s very colorful. Well, the Kansas set and costumes, everything, are not colorful at all. They’re all sepia toned and almost look like an old black-and-white film. It’s really interesting. It’s not black and white but it’s that old fashioned gray, dusty and then similar to the film, when we get to munchkin land, the color is incredible and vibrant, exciting. The design I was quite astounded by, some of the special effects – there are things that happen in the story that I can’t really tell you about because then they’d ruin the surprise – but there’s some stage magic that happens. There’s a little bit of film and video in the show, which is quite interesting. … As far as the adaptation goes, I was quite pleasantly surprised at how funny the story was. The adaptation is written by our director Jeremy Sams and it’s very faithful to the original story, but he has a British sense of humor that’s not sentimental and kind of makes fun of things at time. The audiences love the humor in the story. There are many moments of humor, for both the kids and adults.
The costumes, the sets, all have a bit of a twist on the classic. And you play Cowardly Lion, how long does it take you to get into costume?
It’s a big costume. It’s a lot of fun. It probably takes me about 15 minutes to get dressed into that costume. I get dressed, there’s an under-layer and then I put on a lot of the makeup. And then I’m helped by a dresser because I can’t actually get into it myself, there’s so many pieces to it. Then I have the tail, which kind of has a backpack harness that goes on, then the fur outer layer that kind of wraps around that, there’s a big headpiece with a wig and mane and everything. So there are a lot of pieces. It’s padded in various places and it’s also vented to try and keep me cool but really, it’s hot. It’s really hot. I’m used to that now but it’s a fur suit with padding. It’s a fun costume and I really enjoy it. The tail has a life of its own. When I move around, it took me a while to learn how the tail would move – sometimes I’d hit people with it on accident and sometimes on purpose.
How long did it take to “master” the tail, if you will?
Luckily, I asked for the tail quite early in rehearsal, probably within the first week of rehearsal. I was wearing the tail for probably four weeks. And then the last two weeks of rehearsal we were in full costume so then we got used to wearing everything. So six weeks overall, and about four weeks with just the tail, just moving with it and figuring out how to give it space.
How have audiences responded to this production?
Oh, they love it. The audience response has been amazing. We’re very, very lucky. We’re selling really well everywhere we go, packed houses and a wonderful cross section of people bringing their children to see the show to introduce them to it for the very first time and people of various ages who know the story and love it and even up to people with grandparents who are bringing them. Everybody loves it. You can hear different parts of the audience laugh at different scenes. The response has been amazing, we’ve been really lucky and quite blessed with the response to this story.
The Wizard of Oz runs from Dec. 4 to Dec. 29 at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. The show is two hours and 20 minutes, with a 20-minute intermission. Tickets are still available — for more information and tickets, go to the Ordway’s website.