Tanglewood: ‘Oz With Orchestra’ Believing makes it so
Music Review By Clarence Fanto
Special to The Eagle
LENOX -- Seventy-five years after the premiere "The Wizard of Oz," a trailblazing film shot largely in vivid Technicolor, the Harold Arlen-"Yip" Harburg musical adaptation of Frank Baum’s 1900 novel remains a much-revered classic.
The film’s hold on our imagination becomes especially vibrant on the big screen. Add the live performance of the score by the Boston Pops led by Keith Lockhart, and the result on Friday night was a memorable cinematic event at Tanglewood. It brought to life the remarkable score arranged by Herbert Stothart based on themes from the movie’s iconic songs.
Lockhart managed, with only several brief exceptions, the difficult task of synchronizing the orchestra with the reconstructed soundtrack, which retained all the vocals, dialogue and sound effects but deleted the tinny-sounding MGM studio orchestra.
All the more remarkable was the conductor’s sole reliance on a video monitor and analog clock for cues, without the often-utilized, metronome-like "click track" device.
Seeing "Oz" on a theater-sized screen as its creators intended turned out to be mesmerizing and revelatory.
The crowd’s applause following the well-remembered songs and sequences featuring Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, Billie Burke as Glinda, the Good Witch, the Munchkins, Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow, Jack Haley’s Tin Man, Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion and Frank Morgan’s Wizard enhanced the collective experience. Likewise, the audience hissed Margaret Hamilton’s nasty turns as Miss Gulch, who threatens Dorothy’s faithful dog Toto on the family farm and, when they’re not in Kansas anymore, seeks to wreak havoc as the Wicked Witch of the West.
The transformation of what filmgoers have experienced as incidental underscoring into an orchestral odyssey performed live by the Pops will make a re-viewing of the original version disappointing.
Occasionally, the dialogue was swamped by the sheer power of the Pops -- not that it mattered in a film so familiar to its viewers.
The final 10 minutes of the film, as Dorothy regains consciousness -- returning from Oz to Kansas from the blow she suffered when a twister hit her farmhouse -- achieved a transcendental poignancy, yielding plenty of choked-back sobs among Tanglewood patrons -- it’s OK to cry at the movies, folks, when the emotions are genuine and well-earned by the filmmakers.
As the orchestra reprised the score’s "Over the Rainbow" and other key themes, Dorothy witnesses the Wizard granting the Tin Man a heart, the Scarecrow a brain and the Cowardly Lion courage. Despite their self-doubt, the Scarecrow has displayed cleverness, the Lion has been brave despite himself, and the Tin Man has displayed genuine emotion during their odyssey down the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City.
We can all relate to lack of self-confidence, and who among us would not share Dorothy’s joy at the reunion with her farm family in Kansas.
Despite Thomas Wolfe’s admonition that "You Can’t Go Home Again," when Judy Garland’s Dorothy exclaims, "Oh, but anyway, Toto, we’re home - home! And oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home!" it’s easy to choke up as we think, "would that it were so."
Call me a cockeyed optimist, but if we’ve walked through a storm with our heads held high, home is the ultimate comfort, and believing that indeed makes it so.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
firstname.lastname@example.org or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto
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