Audiences for both the British and Canadian versions of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s enlargement of Arlen and Harburg’s The Wizard of Oz enjoyed hearing all the old favorites from the MGM film. But what was the reaction to the additional songs?
In a word, mixed.
The music Lloyd Webber wrote, complemented by the celebrated wordsmithery of Tim Rice, is generally genuinely enjoyable, but to the ears of this Examiner of Oz (having listened to the soundtrack CD of the Palladium production), it clashes with the Arlen – Harburg score.
It isn’t all brilliant; Dorothy’s refrain “Nobody Understands Me” becomes rather annoying rather quickly, while Professor Marvel’s “The Wonders of the World” held my attention only because Michael Crawford was singing it. I somehow doubt Des O’Connor was able to imbue it with the same magic.
The Wicked Witch of the West gets a tune called “Red Shoes Blues,” which is a hoot; if only Eartha Kitt had been given that to sing!
Glinda’s number “Already Home,” performed toward the end of the show, is a heartbreakingly beautiful song; nevertheless, when I heard it on the soundtrack, I could not help but be reminded of “This Land of Oz,” Glinda’s closing song from James Doyle and Joe Cascone’s Wonderful Wizard. I am not accusing Lloyd Webber or Rice of plagiarism (though I would not be the first; many have done so over the years with varying degrees of credibility), mainly because the tune itself is not similar; the sentiment and the wise words imparted to Dorothy by the Good Witch are, however, very redolent.
Speaking of Joe, he neatly summed up the general consensus among many fans of Oz, saying that Lloyd Webber “should have written an entirely original score, even if he wanted to base the dramatic structure on the MGM movie and/or the RSC stage version.” He further mentioned that during intermission at a performance of the show, “We bumped into several people in the lobby who had seen our production and clearly stated that they enjoyed the originality of our show much more than Sir Andrew's.”
So is the Rice – Lloyd Webber Wizard one for the ages or a monumental misfire? Opinion is divided and will continue to be, but it is certainly remarkable for its audacity. It will no doubt continue to be produced and many more talented performers will leave their stamp on the iconic roles once more brought to life in the show. And to be sure, it is better than some other attempts to retell the story of Dorothy Gale’s first visit to Oz; those tend to use the MGM film as a template, ignoring Baum’s book.
At least we knew going in that Lloyd Webber’s production was going to be an adaptation of an adaptation.