FLASH FRIDAY: Judy Garland, Michael Crawford, OZ, GLEE & Christmas
Today we have a super-special triple-focus Flash Friday dedicated not only to two of the top-tier talents in the entertainment history ever - Judy Garland and Michael Crawford - but, also, to the ever-lasting entity through which they are now, forever, inextricably linked - THE WIZARD OF OZ. Of course, Judy Garland famously starred in the original 1939 film adaptation of the L. Frank Baum children's classic, but, just this past year, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice and Jeremy Sams adapted the classic film for the stage to much success and added a number of significant new songs to the Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg score. Be sure to catch my exclusive InDepth InterView with Michael Crawford that went live earlier this evening to read all about the new stage spectacular, as well as his affection for Judy Garland in the original film and some of his own favorite Christmas and holiday songs. Additionally, next Tuesday GLEE will be paying tribute to Judy Garland in the form of a mid-1960s-style TV Christmas special homage, so now is certainly as good a time as any to look back at the unparalleled performance of Garland in THE WIZARD OF OZ - for which she won a juvenile Academy Award - as well as her 1963 Christmas special which featured guest performances by Mel Torme, Liza Minnelli and more! So, make this a truly Mikey & Judy holiday season - as opposed to Mickey & Judy one - with this spotlight on Michael Crawford and Judy Garland and both their OZ-ian and Christmas connections - and a GLEE-ful surprise or two, too. After all, 'tis the season!
Dorothy & The Phantom
The greatest star of them all - Judy Garland - in perhaps the greatest American film suitable for the whole family - THE WIZARD OF OZ - fully remastered in HD on Blu-ray at last. Does it get any better than that? Well, not really - at least as far as home entertainment goes.
Following that, with perhaps the most classic movie musical moment of all time, here is Judy Garland performing the Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg ballad "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" in this clip from THE WIZARD OF OZ.
So, how to go one better than that? First, find the composer of not one, but both of the longest-running musicals in Broadway history (CATS and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) - Andrew Lloyd Webber - and, then, get him to re-team with the lyricist from his salad days as the theatrical innovator of his generation (JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and EVITA included)- Tim Rice - and somehow bring them together to compose some new musical material for the song-less Wicked Witch and Wizard - and maybe a catchy new tune for Dorothy, too - and you could well be on your way to having the next best thing to seeing the original film of THE WIZARD OF OZ on Blu-ray. Indeed, Andrew Lloyd Webber's THE WIZARD OF OZ takes the magic and power of the original film and expands it and enriches it in such a way as to even enhance the experience when going back and enjoying the film again. The new songs breathe new life into the paradoxically substantial-yet-slight score and the entire experience is truly indescribable. Without a doubt, the stage adaptation of THE WIZARD OF OZ is its own thing - and possesses moments just as thrilling and exhilarating as the original film is to a first time viewer. Truly, the only element that could have made the excitement level of the enterprise any more exaggerated - or any more au currant - would be to have a reality television casting competition a year before the show hit the board as a way to let the audience have a say in determining who Dorothy (and her understudy) would be and who could possibly be fit to fill Judy Garland's huge Ruby Slippers. So, Andrew Lloyd Webber did just that - and found a true treasure trove of talent in the process.
How to match Danielle Hope with a Wizard of commanding presence and serious theatrical stature? Why, cast the iconic star of your most famous show, of course! So, Michael Crawford, it is! The combination of all of that - and so much more - led to one of the most spectacular and truly 21st century entertainment experiences we have ever seen. Broadway unquestionably is next!
See a sample of Andrew Lloyd Webber's THE WIZARD OF OZ stage spectacular below.
For comparison's sake (though the original can never be topped), here is a video compilation of Danielle Hope's journey on the OVER THE RAINBOW reality show set to the audio of her singing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow".
Without further ado, here is the piece de resistance - Michael Crawford as Professor Marvel performing the new Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice composition, "The Wonders Of The World".
Also, see the cast of THE WIZARD OF OZ performing a medley of tunes on CHILDREN IN NEED from last month.
While THE Judy Garland CHRISTMAS SPECIAL may very well go down as the most fondly remembered Christmas special of all time to Broadway babies of a certain age - or, now that we are in the age of YouTube, maybe all - the fact that it is so much an iconic part of Christmas pop culture in this country as to be paid tribute to in a GLEE episode is solid proof that it is an essential ingredient to a fully-rounded holiday entertainment buffet. As history notes, THE Judy Garland SHOW was unceremoniously canceled by CBS a little more than three months after this special aired, yet the show stands as one of the finest television variety shows of all time. Now, thanks to YouTube, we can go back almost fifty years - to December, 1963 - and witness all the wintry wonder of the classic special event and see the greatest movie star of all time bring the holiday into our homes as only she can.
The entire Judy Garland CHRISTMAS SPECIAL is available to view on YouTube here, but today we shall focus on some of the highlights.
First up, starting off the festivities in a particularly grand manner, see the Velvet Fog himself - Mel Torme - join Judy on "The Christmas Song". Who misses a dropped lyric or two, anyway?
Next, watch this particularly swingin' sequence from the special set around the fire, featuring the awe-inspiring assortment of stars - Liza Minnelli included - performing a sprightly medley of carols.
Now, here is Judy joined by Jack Jones and her then-teenage daughter, Liza Minnelli, performing a jazzy "Sleigh Ride" mash-up in a particularly Kay Thompson-esque arrangement.
Lastly, giving us precisely what we have all been waiting for, here is Judy Garland singing her signature holiday standard - famously premiered in Vincente Minnelli's seminal MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, appearing on Blu-ray later this month - "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas". A quintessential classic and a Hollywood icon of the highest order. The best.
Bringing our discussion to the 21st century, for a cursory peek at the sights and sounds of Tuesday night's GLEE homage to Judy's Christmas special, here is a preview of the episode, titled "Extraordinary Merry Christmas" after the terrific new tune penned for show standouts Lea Michele and soon-to-be Broadway baby Darren Criss (the single is also available on the delightful GLEE CHRISTMAS: VOLUME 2, which is out now).
As a special bonus, check out this just-released video of the GLEE Cast performing "Do They Know It's Christmas?" - the hit 1980s all-star Band Aid African charity single - on Tuesday's red-nosed and rosy-cheeked holiday-themed GLEE.
Moving from Judy to Mikey, here is the first of a few especially enchanting holiday-themed performances from the original Phantom in the longest-running musical of all-time (on Broadway and in the West End), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA - the one and only Michael Crawford! Consider it a corollary enjoyment to today's exclusive InDepth InterView.
First up, here is Crawford's own favorite of his many Christmas recordings - "O Holy Night", produced by David Foster.
For an especially hilarious two-part Crawford curiosity, check out an impossibly young and bright-eyed Michael Crawford as his classic character, Frank Spencer, in this clip of a Christmas-themed episode from his beloved Brit-com SOME MOTHERS DO 'AVE 'EM. What a physical jack of all trades!
Taken from the a Christmas special starring legendary record producer David Foster, here is Michael Crawford alongside a host of stars - Vanessa Williams, Johnny Mathis and many more - singing Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" in 1993.
So, what is your favorite theatre-themed holiday tune and who is your favorite performer who sings it? There are so very many to choose from, it is a challenge to choose just one, but Judy Garland, Michael Crawford and the cast of GLEE is certainly a snowball-smashing way to start the holiday season!