For someone who had only a return ticket between Kansas and Emerald City, Dorothy, the "Wizard of Oz" girl, certainly does get around.
The L. Frank Baum books ran into volume after volume. Dorothy was just here, in the black-cast musical version, "The Wiz." The 1939 film "Wizard of Oz," with Judy Garland singing "Somewhere, over the rainbow . . ." is constantly being revived on television and in art movie theaters. And here Dorothy is again, as a grown-up Diana Ross, in a new film version, which is also a black musical but quite different from the stage one at the Kennedy Center last summer.
In each manifestation, Dorothy and her friends are somewhat different, but the idea seems to lend itself t all those - and perhaps countless other - legitimate variations. Can you bear to wait for the Jewish tragedy Oz or the Italian comedy Oz or the Japanese pantomine Oz?
The new film, well over two hours long, has Dorothy as a New York kindergaten teacher who gets swept up to Oz in a snowstorm. In previous versions, there was always a great psychological cast to the story, with the problems of the Scarecrow, who lacks a brain, the Tin Man, who lacks a heart, and the Lion, who lacks courage, being internal ones that needed to be overcome by a change of attitude within themselves. Dorothy was a sort of Everygirl who held it all together.
Well, now Dorothy has these kinds of problems, too. She is neurotically inhibited, "24 years old and never been south of 125th Street," as Aunt Em says, unable to move up from kindergarten to high-school teaching because of the more complicated commitment to pupils and unable to look straight in the eye the attractive young man who sits next to her at her aun'ts dinner party.
This is a peculiar Dorothy, and it's certainly peculiar to see Diana Ross looking nervous and tense for almost an entire film, until being released at the end into the kind of boisterous exuberance for which she's better known.
But it works as well as any other. Okay, maybe Judy Garland is engraved on your heart forever, in a way that this interpretation never will be. But it does, at least, work.
Putting the story into a modern urban context also works - for the most part. A street-wise sophistication is the aim here, and only very occasionally - as when the Wicked Witch's throne turns into a toilet - does it get over too far into bad taste.
But there's no reason the Emerald City should not be a chic disco at which the Wiz demonstrates his power by arbitrarily changing fashions from one moment to the other. To get to it, Dorothy and her friends must past through an urban-renewal devastated area, the subway, the red-light district and an Art Deco skyscraper. One problem with following the Yellow Brick Road is that it is full of empty Yellow Cabs that flash "Off Duty" signs whenever anyone hails them.
The Tin Man, here, Nipsey Russell, was a con man at a defunct amusement park; the Lion, Ted Ross, guarded the steps of the Public Library; the Scarecrow, Michael Jackson, was the prisoner of a city gang of tough crows, and the Wiz, Richard Pryos, was a failed New Jersey politician whose excuse for fraud is that he needed the job. The Wicked Witch, Mabel King, runs a sweatshop that manufactures and exports sweat, and her monkeys are a terrorizing motorcycle gang. Only the Good Witch, Glinda, played by Lena Horne, remains the standard blue-and-sparkle creature of fairy tales.
It's a lavish production, even compared to the Geoffrey Holder stage production, which itself was notable in the yard goods department. There is Quincy Jones music, elaborate ballets and costumes by Ralph Lauren, Bill Blass, Halston, Mary McFadden, Oscar de la Renta, Stephen Burrows, Scott Barrie and Fernando Sanchez, among others.
And the make-up artists, supervised by Carl Fullerton, are - wizards.
THE WIZ - Capri, Centre, Embassy Circle, K-B bethesda and Landover Mall.