Dallas — For those who never tire of taking a trip down the Yellow-Brick Road, there is yet-another version of The Wizard of Oz in town March 18-30. This time, it's the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice revamp that played in London's West End for just over a year, then spent a year in Toronto. The production making a stop at the Fair Park Music Hall is the first North American tour of the new stage adaptation that adds four new songs to the familiar tunes from the classic 1939 film, including a solo for the Wicked Witch, which is about time since she's had her own Broadway show for the last 10 years. Dallas audiences may recognize a familiar face in the orchestra pit. The show's musical director and conductor, David A. Rogers, got his theater education and his start in Dallas at the long-gone Dallas Repertory Theater. He took time to talk to TheaterJones from the tour's stop in Houston about the show and home.
TheaterJones: Are you looking forward to coming back to Dallas?
How long did you work here? What projects did you do in Dallas?
I worked in Dallas for 17 years. I came to Dallas to go to Southern Methodist University, and while I was there, I started doing shows at a theater that's now gone, the Dallas Repertory Theater. Ed DeLatte at Dallas Rep gave me my first professional job in theater, then I went on to do 14 shows there. I also worked at all the usual haunts, Country Dinner Playhouse and Six Flags —I made all the rounds. I also taught private voice lessons and was on the faculty at Mountainview College.
How long have you been in New York?
I've been in New York now for almost 20 years. When I first came to Dallas, I felt like I was home, and I felt the same way when I arrived in New York. I guess that's just part of the life of a theater person, you make home wherever you are.
How did you make your way to The Wizard of Oz U.S. tour?
To be honest, they called me. The company producing the tour is one I've worked with many times doing Fiddler on the Roof, Chicago, Cats and several others. The folks who run the company have been colleagues and friends for a number of years. I'm very grateful. It's a magical, beautiful show. And it's meaningful to do a show where the theme is "there's no place like home" and get to go home to Dallas. One of the new songs in the show is the last song, "Already Home." The first line is so appropriate to the show and to life on the road and being able to come back to Dallas: "Home is a place in your heart." It's a perfect line. It sums up everything.
What is new about this version of The Wizard of Oz?
It has been completely re-imagined for the stage while paying careful attention to the film that inspired us all. But what we forget is that before the 1939 film, there were multiple stage versions. It's a show that has continued to be worked on over the years. In this one, while we're in Kansas, everything is in sepia tones, then there is an explosion of color in Munchkinland. In the original book, blue is the designated color of Munchkinland, and Dorothy's dress played homage to that in the film, but in this production, the Munchkins are in various shades of blue. Oz is super stylized. It looks a little like the Chrysler Building, just very eye-catching and beautiful, and there are all new orchestrations.
What is your favorite new song?
I'm always hesitant to name a favorite ... it's like asking a parent to choose a favorite child. All four of the new songs are so well integrated into the existing score with the 1939 original songs. The new songs fit nicely with them. "Nobody Understands Me" is the perfect summation of a 14-year-old girl. The Professor Marvel song, "Wonders of the World," is a beautiful song showing a little girl in Kansas things she would have not have any connection to otherwise and sparking her imagination. "The Red Shoe Blues" at the beginning of Act II is for the Wicked Witch and is a great show-stopper. And then, I've already mentioned "Already Home," the perfect sentiment about going home.
What makes The Wizard of Oz timeless?
Well, we've all been there, haven't we? The grass is always greener. We've all been stuck somewhere and thought there was a better place out there somewhere. We've all had those dreams and all wanted to dive into those dreams and see what becomes of it. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is on almost everyone's list of top songs of all time ... it has such longing in it, and we've all felt that way before. Watching Dorothy on her journey is a terrific way to put those daydreams into realization. The bottom line that there is no place like home is very true also, even though it sounds so simple. It's the combination of the profound and the simple that makes the story a classic, but also speaks to our deeper selves, especially when we get that what we want we've had all along, it just needs to be brought out, recognized and celebrated.
How is it working on an Andrew Lloyd Webber show?
His influence is definitely on the show in the presentation and the musical choices. For the story's fans, and who isn't, there is nothing in the production that will take them out of it. It's a wonderful family show.
What's the one thing you have to do while you're in Dallas?
This is going to sound silly, but every time I come to town, I will spend at least one afternoon driving around to all the places where I lived—my dorm at SMU, my old apartment, the houses I lived in. Of course, there are a number of restaurants I want to catch up on and lots of friends to see while I'm in town. And then of course, I have to make what I call my "pilgrimage" to the downtown Neiman Marcus. It is one of my very favorite places in town and where I had my only job that was outside of theater. I went through the executive training program at that store. So, I have to have lunch at the Zodiac.