By the time the closing credits ran for the Sing-Along Wizard of Oz at the Oriental Theater, I had practically chewed my tongue to a pulp. With all the children in the audience at the Sunday matinee, I was doing everything I could to hold myself back from shouting all sorts of things at the screen. For instance, when Auntie Em serves up a plate of crullers to the farm hands, after reprimanding them for slacking off, I wanted to yell out, 'Got any Munchkins?' When Dorothy sings the line about being 'way up high' in 'Over The Rainbow,' I so wanted to make a comment about Judy being high too.
Luckily, I had my witty partner Rick sitting next to me, and I would whisper the one-liners into his ear. He had some good ones himself, such as when Glinda makes her entrance. Rick thought she should ask the assembled Munchkins, 'Does this dress make me look fat?' As the Wicked Witch of the West tries to claim the ruby slippers, it would have been a good time to tell her that they would clash with her face. We both wanted to warn Dorothy, 'don't run into the scenery,' as she hurriedly made her way up the Yellow Brick Road. I suggested that when the Scarecrow tells Dorothy that some people go both ways, it would have been the right time to yell out, 'Just like Vincent Minnelli!'
But we were considerate of the audience, who seemed to enjoy the opportunity to sing along with the classic tunes from the movie. They also blew bubbles (for Glinda's arrivals and departures), cranked a noisemaker (whenever the Tin Man was on screen), hummed into kazoos for the musical interludes, and swirled magic wands when magic occurred, all of which was supplied to them in a handy-dandy plastic bag.
Director/choreographer/writer/composer Marc Robin, the man behind the proverbial curtain, recently took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions.
GS: What is the origin of the concept for the Sing-Along-Wizard of Oz?
Marc Robin: Lou Raizin, who is one of the head honchos at Broadway In Chicago—when the Sing-Along Sound of Music came through last year, and it was quite a phenomenon, I think he looked at it and said, 'This is a really cool thing. What can we contribute to this market?' I think he expounded on the Sing-Along Sound of Music and came up with The Wizard of Oz as the thing to do, because its appeal is so universal.
GS: How did you come to be involved at that point?
MR: Eileen Lacario, who is also involved with Broadway In Chicago, used to be involved with the Candlelight Playhouse, and I used to do a lot of work for them. I've known her for years. When they decided that they wanted to bring a theatrical director in to it, to help shape the whole production, she had recommended me. They interviewed me and asked me to do it.
GS: Was it difficult casting someone, such as George Keating, in the multi-faceted role of the host of the Sing-Along-Wizard of Oz?
MR: Actually, it was. We saw a number of gentlemen. We saw people who were heavy into improv to just 'regular actor types.' The qualities that I was looking for was someone who could do a theatrical presentation, but still be able to act quickly on their feet and interact with an audience. We found two great guys, George Keating and Ed Kross, are terrific. They both have extensive backgrounds in working with industrial and children's theater audiences, which are very similar to what we are doing, in terms of audience interaction.
GS: There is an undeniable gay sensibility to the event; the host even makes reference to the fact that the Wizard Of Oz has been seen by 'a lot of queens.' Will this theme be addressed?
MR: When Craig Cackowski and T.J. (Shannof) wrote the format for what the show would be—we took the format and went with it on our own—there was a lot more 'gay humor' in it. Knowing that we were opening it to a demographic that is an 8 (theater) audience versus a midnight crowd—we opted to eliminate all of that except for that one reference. So, if there was a larger gay population, like there was (Saturday night) the night before you saw it, they would be acknowledged without crossing any lines that would offend a family audience. If this is a success, and judging by the response (from preview weekend) it seemed to go really well, if there's a life beyond Chicago—which everybody is hoping that there is—I personally foresee midnight showings, on Saturday nights, that are specifically marketed to a gay audience, because it is such a strong demographic for this film. It's almost a reverent audience for this film.
GS: Do you think that to some, especially in the gay community, that the Wizard of Oz is a sacred cow?
MR: Without question. The thing that amazed me the most this weekend, watching the movie with audiences, was that I expected audiences would sing 'Over The Rainbow' at the top of their lungs, because it is the song that everybody knows, yet it was sung beautifully and plainly. Because nobody wanted to out-sing Judy and nobody wanted to be irreverent. You had to feel that. You were there.
MR: Very calm and still and peaceful.
GS: Very respectful.
MR: Exactly. And I thought, 'This is definitely not going to be Rocky Horror Picture Show.'
GS: To what would you ascribe the enduring popularity of Wiz of Oz, especially in Chicago, where there was Chicago Shakespeare Theater's recent stage production and this sing-along version.
MR: I actually directed the production at Navy Pier. I think that if you look around the country, the Wizard of Oz continues to play on-stage pretty much everywhere, either in a theatrical presentation or in movie form. I think it's because the Wizard of Oz identifies us as who we are. There isn't a person that I've ever met in my life that hasn't seen it, doesn't have a favorite part of it, and hasn't been effected by it in some way, shape or form. Sometimes it's the first time that a movie ever scared you.
GS: Yes, for a lot of children that is true.
MR: For me, that's what it was.
GS: I'm glad that you mentioned another one of your directing duties. You were involved in the acclaimed Ovation! series and I was wondering if you are still involved and if so, if you could tell me what the status of it is.
MR: We stopped in the middle of the series because the renovations of the theater began. Now that the renovations are done, we're just waiting for the structure of what was setting up that program to get back into place. We're very hopeful that it will and it is definitely something that we're hoping to get back to.