Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Once upon a time "The Wizard of Oz" was simply one good fairy tale. Then it became a movie classic with Judy Garland. It was reborn as an all-black smash stage musical. And now "The Wiz" has become the most expensive movie musical ever made.
Tuesday night "The Wiz" had a raucous, and a times nightmarish, premiere. An hour before the celebrities were scheduled to pull up in front of the Loew's Astor Plaza theater at Broadway and 44th Street, nearly 2,000 fans crowded the theater's small entrance.
When Diana Ross, the singer-turned-actress who plays Dorothy arrived, the crowd screamed frighteningly. it took Ross, accompanied by Berry Gordy, president of Motown Industries, five minutes to walk a police-guarded path.
"I don't know whether that was fun or not," she said, her knees shaking, when she arrived inside the theater lobby.
Even Clifton Davis, attending to interview stars for a new syndicated television show called "Spotlight," spent the early part of the evening behind the glass theater doors. Alex Cohen, his producer, murmured at one point, "the crowd is getting wild."
Earlier Tuesday in the first national reviews of the "The Wiz," Time and Newsweek panned the musical. But at the premiere, no one seemed worried.
"The reviews don't bother me. People will like the film because it's fun," said associate producer Burtt Harris.
What was emphasized at the premiere and the party that followed night was that the story had become an urban fantasy, particularly a New York City story. in this latest loose descendant of L. Frank Baum's classic, Dorothy becomes a 24-year-old schoolteacher from Harlem who doesn't know about life, goes out to empty the garbage one day and is swept off to Oz by a snowstorm.
In her search for the Emerald City she encounters the traditional Oz characters - the Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tinman - but they have been transported to some spectacular New York landmark. The Cyclone roller coaster at Coney Island and the Warz's Island Bridge were covered with miles of yellow linoleum to become the yellow brick road.
Tuesday night's gala was planned to mimic at least the spirit of the movie. Since "The Wiz" was the largest film ever shot in New York City, the city arranged to have a subway car transport many of the 1,200 guests from the movie theater down to the World Trade Center building. For the movie, Tony Walton, the preduction designer, had lit up the towers with 27,000 electric bulbs to help create the Emerald City scene. Tuesday night fewer lights were turned on, but the building rocked with the sounds of the movie.
On the graffiti-free "Wiz-Express," Joan Mondale, the Carter administration's arts envoy, and New York City Mayor Edward Koch toasted the economic revival of New York.Caught with "Wiz" fever, Koch said, "With President Carter's help the 'Wicked Witch' of bankruptcy has been routed."
Also on board the train was the American Film Institute's George Stevens Jr., designers Halston and Donald Brooks, composer Micki Grant, singer Melba Moore and author Kurt Vonnegut.
As he walked into the theater, Warner LeRoy, the restaurateur, whose father Mervyn produced the Judy Garland "Oz", reminisced, "this has always been one of my favorite films because I was only 4 when my father made it, and it was the only one of his movies where most of the characters were near my size."
During the screening, the audience broke into wild applause several times. When actor Richard Dreyfuss came out, he said the film was "fantastic." Then in pantomime he sealed his lips with a key as he walked away.
Halston, who contributed "about a dozen designs" to the film, was less reticent. "I thought it was like a dream. This," he said, sweeping a black-sweatered arm around the lobby, "is total fantasy. And that's what the film is all about."
Among those who waited in the throngs for the elevator up to the 107th floor of the World Trade Center were Quincy and Peggy Lipton Jones; designers Georgio SanAngelo, Diane von Furstenbury and Ralph Lauren; actress Candice Bergen and screenwriter Joel Schumacher; Bess Myerson, Gilda Radner, and Gov Hugh Carey and Anne Ford.
Upstairs at the Windows on the World Restaurant four bands played jazz, disco and rhythm and blues into the morning. The dancers, who created some of the best moments in the film, created some of the best moments at the party.