'Oz' show based more on book: Lloyd Webber

Andrew Lloyd Webber hugs girls from the cast of "Over the Rainbow" in this undated photo in Toronto. Webber had no qualms about tinkering with "The Wizard of Oz" for a Toronto-bound stage production, noting many fans of the original "Oz" books by L. Frank Baum weren't happy with the ending of the classic 1939 movie anyway. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

TORONTO - Andrew Lloyd Webber had no qualms about tinkering with "The Wizard of Oz" for a Toronto-bound stage production, noting many fans of the original "Oz" books by L. Frank Baum weren't happy with the ending of the classic 1939 movie anyway.

"There are a lot of people ... who passionately feel the film let everything down because it basically said (Dorothy) was knocked on her head and had a dream," the 64-year-old theatre guru said earlier this week in an interview.

"The whole point about the book — whatever you make of the book — is that Oz was real."

Lloyd Webber was in town to appear on "Over The Rainbow," a CBC-TV reality show seeking to find a Dorothy for an upcoming Mirvish production of "The Wizard of Oz."

The Oscar winner and longtime collaborator Tim Rice have written four new songs for the production, which has already been staged in London (where the lead, incidentally, was also chosen on a TV show).

The televised casting process has proven a successful formula in recent years.

A few years back, Elicia MacKenzie won the CBC-TV show "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?" and went on to star in a raved-about Mirvish incarnation of "The Sound of Music."

She later starred in the company's production of "Rock of Ages."

Lloyd Webber — whose long list of smashes include "Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" — says he's been involved with eight such programs.

The TV viewers who vote for their favourite performer each week, he noted, know what they're doing.

"So far, the public has not got it wrong," said Lloyd Webber. "I have no clue where this one's going to go."

Still, while he trusts those who watch the show, Lloyd Webber says the judges have mechanisms they can use to save a contestant from elimination.

And, he said, even if a contestant doesn't win the whole contest, she might be used as an understudy in the theatrical version, as was the case with "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?"

It takes a certain degree of confidence to re-envision "Oz" — the classic tale about a girl from Kansas who travels to a magical land — but Lloyd Webber had a clear idea of what he wanted to do.

"There's nothing dramatically to set up Dorothy in the original film," he said. "There's no song in the film for either of the witches, which is ... dramatically completely wrong, and there's nothing at all really for the wizard."

Whoever is crowned the ultimate Dorothy will have to embrace the role quickly. The stage show, which opens Dec. 20, is already being heavily promoted by Mirvish.

When the box office opens at 9 a.m. Monday, the first 200 people in line at Toronto's Ed Mirvish Theatre will get one free ticket for the first performance. The company is also inviting those who attend to wear red shoes and bring their dogs, and the TV Dorothys (and Totos) are also expected to be on hand.

For his part, Lloyd Webber says he's energized working with the Dorothys on the TV show and is impressed by the talent pool.

"I do love seeing young people come through. I mean I don't need to do these programs and I think the real reason I do them is because I actually do like working with young people," he said.

"They are a smashing bunch of kids, you know?"

"Over The Rainbow" airs Sunday and Mondays on CBC-TV (check local listings).