Wamego#78 Dec 16, 2016
THE HISTORY OF HER LIFE IS IN HER SONGS….
CHASING RAINBOWS: THE ROAD TO OZ
[Above: Ruby Rakos (center left) as Judy Garland, drummer boy Michael Wartella as Mickey Rooney, and the cast of CHASING RAINBOWS: THE ROAD TO OZ in the "Hollywood Party" sequence at Goodspeed. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.]
Over Thanksgiving weekend, I attended four of the final performances of the new stage musical, CHASING RAINBOWS: THE ROAD TO OZ, at The Goodspeed Theatre in East Haddam, CT. This was far from a “first” for me; across September and October, I’d seen the production there on ten other occasions. I’d also seen it seven times in its first professional incarnation last November/December at the Flat Rock Playhouse, State Theatre of North Carolina.
Lest I be accused, however, of manic fandom-in-excelsis, I should explain up-front that my presence each and every time (as well as at many rehearsals and in production meetings) has come as a member of the artistic staff of the show. I’m officially the “Creative Consultant/Historian” for CHASING RAINBOWS, which – in the hands of conceptualizer Tina Marie Casamento Libby, musical adaptor David Libby, and librettist Marc Acito -- is a vastly imaginative, extremely songful, and emotionally riveting retelling of the life of Judy Garland from age four to sixteen. Some of you reading here are already aware of the production and my participation; many others recently have reached out to me for information about it.
Thus, this month’s blog!
It’s naturally hoped that CHASING RAINBOWS will continue to entertain any audience anywhere. But it should be of particular interest, I think, to those who are aficionados of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 film version of THE WIZARD OF OZ, in which Judy – of course – played Dorothy Gale, introduced “Over the Rainbow,” and achieved what appears to be an eternal, extraordinary fame. In fact, as the production stands now, the first few moments of CHASING RAINBOWS take place on an MGM soundstage during one of sixteen-year-old Judy’s costume and hairstyle tests for OZ in October 1938. There is an almost immediate, fast flashback to her earliest days as the five-year-old member of The Gumm Sisters trio in her family’s vaudeville act; the show then progresses across the next decade of her personal and professional ROAD TO OZ, with all the challenges, triumphs, heartbreaks, and glories that led “the little girl with the great big voice” to her star spot on the MGM roster. This means, of course, that approximately the last twenty-five minutes of CHASING RAINBOWS is all about the madness of OZ preproduction, culminating in the earliest days of filming.
So the show most certainly has a built-in appeal for OZ devotees!
[Above: "Got A Pair of New Shoes!” In this case, they're the wrong ruby slippers, but that's all part of the plot. And hey! she got the part of Dorothy, so Judy and her MGM cohorts are ecstatic. CHASING RAINBOWS Goodspeed photo by Diane Sobolewski.]
Meanwhile, I’ve watched literally thousands of audience members as they’ve attended the show, ranging in age from preteen to very senior, senior citizens. Whether they knew, loved, or could take-or-leave Judy Garland when they arrived at Goodspeed or Flat Rock, they’ve ended up fascinated by, moved by -- and deeply embroiled in – her saga. Standing ovations for theatrical offerings are almost standard these days, but that doesn’t minimize the fact that every crowd with which I’ve seen CHASING RAINBOWS has risen (if not leapt) to cheer at the show’s final curtain -- if not before. What’s more telling to me is the fact that I’ve often stood or sat at the back of the house to watch the presentation; invariably, my attention has been drawn away from the proscenium to something else. It was as if I were compelled to look at an oil painting of the backs of hundreds of heads. No one in the theater audience was moving or stirring; they were all frozen, rapt, fixated on the stage – laughing or crying or feeling… or willing Judy Garland to success.
I can’t claim impartiality, of course. But I can offer that the Goodspeed management took an informal poll of hundreds and hundreds of attendees across the eleven weeks of their CHASING RAINBOWS engagement. The final tally? An “overwhelming majority reported that they loved it” – and most “would see it again.” That says plenty for CHASING RAINBOWS, and for the mounting that Goodspeed gave it.
[Above: CHASING RAINBOWS conceptualizer Tina Marie Casamento Libby and John Fricke, prior to taping the promotional NYBERG TV show with exemplary host/interviewer Ann Nyberg, Hartford, CT WTNH/News 8. Photograph by Elisa Hale. On WTNH.com, the interview may be accessed: HERE ]
There are hopes that the show will enjoy a rich future, which would include a Broadway production. For any of you who love theater, entertainment, OZ, and/or Judy Garland, I would ask please that you wish it Godspeed! Just know that the production is infused with emotional honesty and truth, and as a result, I think it does Judy proud.
Finally, you should know, as well, that “Over the Rainbow” is right in there as a musical finale – preceded by a new “use” of “If I Only Had a Brain,” a brief excerpt from “The Jitterbug”…and many other fleeting moments of Ozzy magic!
Article by John Fricke