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OPINION - A gift to Broadway

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  Andrew Lloyd Weber has given a wonderful gift to the world of musical theater. Some critics would argue that earlier gifts from Sir Andrew (Cats, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) should be politely exchanged. His scores are criticized for being overly repetitive. They are. And his music is synthesizer-heavy. It is. Phantom of the Opera and Cats wowed the Broadway tourists, but weighed on New Yorkers who saw these shows over and over again when out-of-town guests come calling.

What has he done?

He’s lovingly restored the score of America’s best-loved movie, The Wizard of Oz.

The 1939 movie is full of musical gems, including the first and last entry in the Great American Songbook “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” These are masterpieces of the famed MGM orchestra and Harold Arlen. But the 1930s was the era of the lo-fidelity 78-rpm record. Recording techniques from 70 years ago are primitive compared to today. We could never hear this music the way it was intended to be heard – until now.

None of the music has been tampered with – it’s been re-composed for a full theatrical orchestra in the style of the original work. The notes and melodies are the same. And the music is rich and full and lush. You’ve never heard it like this before.

The music is being used in a new stage production of The Wizard of Oz, which is being tried out in Toronto and is scheduled to appear on Broadway soon. There are additional songs and musical passages that are in the MGM style to make the story more stage-friendly. Tim Rice is the lyricist for the additional music. His job, adding words to a well-known classic, is more challenging. Some say his songs are more of a distraction because they intrude on such well-known ground. But his work is true to the original.

The only regret is that Judy Garland is irreplaceable. Danielle Wade sings a fine version on the new cast recording, but she’s borrowing a role that belongs to the ages.

We know the story. We know the movie. The enhanced music is magnificent, and makes an old experience new again.

Chris Conley

A few odds and ends before the weekend begins:

You'll hear a change on WSAU starting Monday morning, as WAOW-TV Ch.9 becomes our new weather provider. We're glad to have Justin Loew and Tony Schumacher back on-air.

My schedule hasn't allowed me to see Wausau Community Theater's production of The King And I, which opened on Thursday night. I'm planning to see it on Saturday with my daughter, and will post a review later that night.