|The Cast of "Chasing Rainbows, the Road to Oz"|
(photo: Diane Sobolewski)
Yet, as Judy was quoted above, many of the numbers tell the story of her life, so aren't quite as shoe-horned as with other such shows. The story was Conceived by Tina Marie Casamento Libby with Music Adapted by David Libby, and they've done their research well, such as the “Jitterbug” number recorded for The Wizard of Oz but scrapped, her father Frank (Kevin Earley) and his rumored personal issues, the allergic reaction to tin man makeup by Buddy Ebsen (Bryan Thomas Hunt) and the competition with Shirley Temple (Lea Mancarella) and Deanna Durbin (Claire Griffin). It's an unabashedly old-fashioned and sentimental show, yet it works, in large part due to an incredibly gifted cast. Even they can't rescue such lines as “rainbows don't last forever, but neither does the rain”, or the many (way too many) Gumm jokes (e.g.“Gumm, as in chewed up and spit out”). Then again there are more clever asides, such as several lines for George Jessel (Gary Milner) and L. B. Mayer (Michael McCormick): “This is Hollywood, why would we want 'different and original'?”.
The show is most reminiscent of the musical “Gypsy”, but with a less controlling mother in the person of Ethel Gumm (Sally Wilfert) supervising The Three Gumm sisters, Mary Jane (Griffin again), Virginia (Piper Birney) and Frances “Baby” Gumm, the youngest, (Ella Briggs, a real standout). The older versions of the Gumm Sisters are Mary Jane (Lucy Horton), Virginia (Andrea Laxton) and Frances (Ruby Rakos). Also featured are Karen Mason in two roles (Kay Koverman and Ma Lawlor, Mickey Rooney (Michael Wartella), Lana Turner (Berklea Going) and Clark Gable (Danny Lindgren). Obviously with such a large cast, there's not much room for subtle character development. As Directed by Tyne Rafaeli, with Music Director Michael O'Flaherty rounding out his twenty-fifth Goodspeed season, and Orchestrations by Dan DeLange, as well as Choreography by Chris Bailey, Lighting Design by Ken Billington, Sound Design by Jay Hilton, Scenic Design by Kristen Robinson and Costume Design by Elizabeth Caitlin Ward, the technical aspects are all superb. This is less a dance show than a singing one, and therein lies its success. With a series of numbers like I Can't Give You Anything but Love, You Made Me Love You, Broadway Rhythm, and, of course, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, all one needs is a cast who can sing.
And what a singing cast this is. Every one of them, individually and in chorus, are perfection, from the stellar leads to the briefest cameo roles, threatening to blow the roof of the theater off with their pipes. It would be criminal to single out one belter among so many fabulous voices, but it would also be criminal not to mention the breakout performance of Ruby Rakos in the role of a lifetime as the immortal Garland. While she's prettier than the role is described, with Mayer crudely referring to her being fat, (sounding eerily contemporary, no?), echoing the expression plus le change, plus la meme chose, she's totally believable from Judy's rocky start to her more confidant self; even her vocal chops grow along the way to the end of the rainbow with its pot of gold. Once in a great while a performer leaves an incandescent memory, and Rakos creates an unforgettable “Ruby's Turn”. Someday, on display in the Smithsonian, there just might be another famous pair of Ruby slippers.