In 2011 the eminent English composer and producer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, co-creator of such worldwide blockbuster musicals as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita (those three with lyrics by Tim Rice), Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, and many more, decided to bring to the stage his own adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz—by way of someone else’s. His production was mainly built around the MGM version, but incorporating more music of his own composition.
To be sure, other stage presentations of Wizard, most notably the Muny version, incorporated other songs into their scores besides those written by Harold Arlen and “Yip” Harburg. But Lloyd Webber went beyond this by composing music (with lyrics by Rice) to be mixed in with the familiar tunes of the 1939 film. As you may well imagine, this caused no little controversy, but more on that later.
Part of Lloyd Webber’s rationale for adding more to the score was his curious contention that the MGM musical had never worked as a stage presentation (which was news to me when I heard it; it’s always been successful wherever it’s been put on!) because of a lack of anything for either Glinda or the Wicked Witch of the West to sing and a dearth of songs in the latter third of the story. In the first place, Glinda does sing at the opening of the Munchkinland musical sequence, and at least in the national tour of the MGM/RSC Wizard starring Eartha Kitt as the Wicked Witch, the evil sorceress sings the opening verse and chorus of “The Jitterbug.”
And while the lack of songs in the last third of the tale is true in the film (though nobody has ever complained), the stage version incorporates reprises of “Over the Rainbow” and “Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead, as well as “The Jitterbug” and the ubiquitous “Winkie Chant,” making it more of a full musical. The general attitude among MGM enthusiasts seemed to be, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Rice and Lloyd Webber, however, thought they saw room for improvement.
Lloyd Webber also wanted to give more thought-revealing songs to Dorothy as well as enlarging the role of Professor Marvel by giving him a number of his own. Of course, for the dual role of the Professor and the Wizard, he called upon the willing services of the brilliant Michael Crawford, who had also played the title role in Lloyd Webber’s Phantom, and become a global star in so doing.
Another event which marked the progress of the musical’s development, and gained it no little publicity, was a reality television program called Over the Rainbow. Broadcast in 2010, it documented the worldwide talent search for the lucky girl or woman who would debut in the show as Dorothy Gale. Out of thousands of applicants, two young women were selected: runner-up Sophie Evans and winner Danielle Hope, both 18 years old.