Wamego #75 July 8, 2016
THE ROAD(TRIPS) TO OZ – OR: WARMING UP FOR WAMEGO!
[Above left: The new Judy Garland stage musical, CHASING RAINBOWS, recounts the early years and early adventures of the little girl who grew up to be the world’s greatest entertainer. After a triumphant engagement at the State Theatre of North Carolina in Flat Rock last autumn, the show opens in Connecticut on September 16th and plays through November 27th. Right: The Figge Art Museum in Iowa displays more than one hundred prime items from the world’s largest Oz collection in THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF OZ exhibition, currently running through September 25th.]
We’re all gearing up for Wamego’s annual OZtoberFest, September 30th-October 2nd, which once again will bring to Kansas all manner and all ages of fervent Oz fans, enthusiasts, and collectors. As previously announced, this year’s special guest is New York editor/journalist Jane Lahr, daughter of the phenomenal Bert Lahr, who played the Cowardly Lion in the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture, THE WIZARD OF OZ. Jane will offer a special presentation about her dad on Saturday afternoon, October 1st, at the Columbian Theatre. Earlier that day and on Sunday, October 2nd, additional Oz programming at Wamego’s OZ Museum will feature: Ryan Jay’s exclusive, behind-the-scenes video footage and interviews from NBC-TV’s THE WIZ LIVE! production last autumn; JP Cafiero in a verbal tour of his family’s extraordinary Oz collection (which is housed at Wamego’s OZ Museum); and yours truly in a nostalgic look-back at Judy Garland’s memories of playing Dorothy Gale in the MGM film.
It’s an amazing amalgam of guests and events – one of the greatest in years for OZtoberFest – so please make your travel plans now to join us in Kansas!
And, while you’re on the road, here are two other locales sure to fascinate any Oz devotee across the summer and into the autumn months:
Now through Sunday, September 25th, The Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa, hosts THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF OZ, a free exhibition of more than one hundred remarkable items from the Willard Carroll/Tom Wilhite Collection – the most extensive anywhere in existence. Oz buffs can actually see Jerry Maren’s “Lollipop Guild” Munchkin costume, the hour glass of the Wicked Witch of the West, one of Judy Garland’s “test dresses” for the role of Dorothy, a pair of ruby slippers from Disney’s 1985 RETURN TO OZ, first-edition Oz books, OZ stage posters dating back to 1903…and so much more. The exhibition is free and open to the public; further information may be found at figgeartmuseum.org. (For those in the environs, may I please add that I’ll be appearing at The Figge to offer a majorly-illustrated lecture about the creation of the 1939 MGM OZ film on Thursday, August 11, at 7 p.m.; this also is free. Two days later, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., they’ve asked me to introduce showings of a 35mm Technicolor print of MGM’s OZ at The Adler Theatre, a venerable and gloriously-restored movie palace of yore. Tickets for the screenings are $3.00 per person or $10 for a family pack [five people maximum]; further information about the film show may be obtained by calling 563 326-8555.)
[Above left: Jerry Maren was eighteen when he played the member of The Lollipop Guild who handed Judy Garland a Munchkin token-of-appreciation in MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939). His original movie costume is featured in THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF OZ exhibition, now open and free to the public at The Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa. Right: Ruby Rakos stars as Judy Garland in the new stage musical, CHASING RAINBOWS: THE ROAD TO OZ, opening at Connecticut’s famed Goodspeed Opera House on September 16th. Already a Broadway veteran – she appeared in BILLY ELLIOTT when barely a teen – Ruby portrays Judy from age thirteen to sixteen; at the climax of the show, Judy/Ruby is cast as Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ.]
For those in -- or heading to -- the northeast this autumn, there’s a happy and rare opportunity being afforded by the famous Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut. That theater has already sent to Broadway such classic musicals as ANNIE, MAN OF LA MANCHA, and SHENANDOAH. Now it’s in preproduction for a brand new show, CHASING RAINBOWS: THE ROAD TO OZ, which tells the inspirational, heartbreaking, uplifting, emotional, and joyous story of Judy Garland from age five to age sixteen, culminating when the girl is cast – against all odds – as Dorothy Gale in MGM’s Technicolor film version of THE WIZARD OF OZ in 1938. Judy is portrayed as she lived: as tiny “Baby Gumm” of The Gumm Sisters vaudeville act; as “the little girl with the great big voice” who wowed audiences, coworkers, and casting directors; as the insecure young girl who was told she wasn’t pretty enough to make movies – who works to support her family -- who works in hopes her eventual success can save her parents’ tumultuous marriage – and who works with Mickey Rooney, Deanna Durbin, Lana Turner, Buddy Ebsen, and George Jessel…all the while being “ruled” by MGM chieftain Louis B. Mayer.
Most auspiciously, the glorious cast of CHASING RAINBOWS (all of them full-fledged professionals with splendid Broadway, television, film, and/or regional theater credits) get to perform some of the most memorable and evocative songs of the 1920s and 1930s. Among them: “Over the Rainbow,” “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart,” “Dear Mr. Gable: You Made Me Love You,” “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “If I Only Had a Brain,” “Everybody Sing,” “Swing, Mr. Mendelssohn,” “Meet the Beat of My Heart,” Should I?,” “In Between,” “Got a Pair of New Shoes,” “Hollywood Party,” “All God’s Children Got Rhythm,” “Did I Remember?,” “Always and Always,” and “I’m Shooting High.”
CHASING RAINBOWS: THE ROAD TO OZ plays eight performances per week at The Goodspeed, opening September 16th and running through November 27th. If you enjoy musical theater – and especially if you love Oz and Judy Garland – it’s the place to be! For further information, including performance schedules and curtain times: goodspeed.org.
As by now must be apparent, we’re launched on the Ozzy “circuit” of all time! Hit Davenport in August or September, head on over to Wamego for September 30th-October 2nd, and then wrap up your year in Connecticut. It’s an almost unbelievable embarrassment of riches: exhibitions, lectures, stage shows, songs, thrills, laughter, excitement -- and genuine once-in-a-lifetime opportunities…all on the road to Oz!
(And for the indefatigable and even-more-fortunate: The International Wizard of Oz Club convenes in Portland, OR, next weekend, July 15th-17th, and in Philadelphia, PA, from August 5th-7th. Details at ozclub.org; once you reach the site, click on Events in the left hand column!)
Here’s hoping we’ll meet in many of these places; please come up and say hello at any moment that’s convenient for you!
Article by John Fricke