By ROB LESTER****Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain who planned to pull the final curtain for NYC’s The Wizard of Oz live stage show this month. The yellow brick road has been extended as a New Year’s present, just like the Q subway was extended and opened this past New Year’s Day. The Q won’t go to East Harlem for another few years, but the 4,5,6 train will take you to 125 Street so you can get “Over the Rainbow” and then stroll two blocks and two avenues to Second Avenue and East 123 Street to the theater ….or ride in a large bubble if you’re a Good Witch or hot air balloon if your friend the Wonderful Wizard of Oz has a contract with Uber. Or, if you happen to be wearing magic sparkly second-hand shoes on your feet, first-hand experience tells you that you can just click and get home—by “home,” I mean the home of Harlem Repertory Theatre (HRT) and the Yip Harburg Foundation, which is extending the show that’s been running for 14 months and had been set for close this month has the heart, brains and courage to keep going at least until January 13, with a strong possibility of more performances beyond that, continuing at Tato Laviera Theatre. After all, this is the FOURTH extension.
The multi-racial cast, with a jazzy underscore and authoritative dramaturgy by representatives of the Yip Harburg Foundation, directed and choreographed by Keith lee Grant, is Artistic Director of Harlem Rep, with the company in the midst of a four-year project of presenting classic musicals that have lyrics by E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, the wordsmith also of stage musicals which are slated to be in the series: Finian’s Rainbow, Flahooley, Bloomer Girl and Jamaica (which, like Oz, has music by Harold Arlen and has been alternating with the the story of Dorothy and her straw, tin and furry friends in Oz, and will continue to do so).
Dramaturg Deena R. Harburg, President and Artistic Director of the Harburg Foundation, in association with acclaimed librettist Arthur Perlman, have based on the script on the original 1929 screnplay and the stage adaptation, but have “sharpened” it to bring out the unashamedly progressive thinker mindset of Yip, father to Deena’s husband and former Foundation leader Ernie Harburg. Their son Ben Harburg plays the Tin Man in the cast whose white, black, Latino and Asian mix fulfills Yip’s vision of a multicultural universe. Dorothy, played by Taylor-Rey Rivera, is interpreted as a modern girl and future leader who is growing to realize the confidence she possesses. Press notes point out that “One of the story’s themes is how the weakness of adults forces children to seize their own destinies and, ironically, to grow up themselves.” According to Ernie Harburg, his father “wanted to address Dorothy finally going home as a leader. At Harlem Rep, Dorothy will come home to lead the rebuilding of her family’s farm.”
Deena Harburg reminds us that this is “”also the story of three strong women–Dorothy and two witches–and illustrates how we need more woman leaders. Munchkinland and The Emerald City reflect Harburg’s utopian dreams of societies that are egalitarian, without dictatorship of monarchy or religion. Interestingly, ‘Over the Rainbow’ actually expresses the dream of an immigrant–or a would-be immigrant–for a better life in a faraway land, a theme of contemporary resonance. This classic song is under-appreciated for this original intent, but is a poignant message in our time, when callousness toward the immigrant is one of our leading socio-political concerns.”
The orchestra is an international jazz trio of Martha Kato (piano), Dan Aran (musical director and percussionist) and Yoshi Waki (bass).
Others in the cast are Daniel Fergus Tamulonis (also the costume designer) as the Professor/Wizard and Uncle Henry, Derrick Montalvo as Scarecrow, Erwin Vazquez as Lion, Barbyly Noël as Aunt Em and Glinda, Emily Ramirez as Miss Gulch and Wicked Witch of the West, Jenna Vega as Guard and Zuhelia Jason as Ensemble.
Ernie Harburg is, co-author of two books, Who Put The Rainbow In The Wizard of Oz? and The Broadway Musical: Collaboration in Commerce and Art. Deena R. Harburg is the founding chair of the unique NYU Tisch Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program, and the author of Fascinating Rhythm: The Collaboration of George and Ira Gershwin and The Music Makers. Keith Lee Grant is Founding Artistic Director of Harlem Repertory Theatre and a Professor in the Department of Theatre and Speech at CCNY. . It’s not first trip to the Emerald City with Harlem Rep as his productions of The WIz (2009) won two AUDELCO awards (Best Director, Best Choreography) as did his Dreamgirls.
The Harlem Repertory Theatre (www.harlemrepertorytheatre.com) is a non-profit theater committed to producing artistically and intellectually challenging productions that explore the experiences of a diverse range of ethnic, social and cultural communities. It stages new works and established classic musicals and plays from bold and innovative perspectives that challenge and/or reflect the Harlem community’s cultural and social values.
Photos by Jonathan Slaff.