Kool Kat of the Week: We’re Off To See The Wizard Mark A. Harmon: There’s No Place Like the Fabulous Fox This Week!

Posted on: Jun 23rd, 2016 By:
Mark A. Harmon

Mark A. Harmon plays Professor Marvel, aka the Wizard of Oz in the new musical adaptation this week at the Fox Theatre.

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

There is little in American pop culture as universally, cross-generationally and continuously beloved as the 1939 film adaptation of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Everyone knows the characters, the songs, and why wicked witches don’t shower. The national tour of stage musical THE WIZARD OF OZ, running June 21-26 at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, takes audiences arm-in-arm back down the Yellow Brick Road.

Oz had already appeared on the big screen by the time Judy Garland went over the rainbow, including silent versions in 1910 and 1925, and a 1933 cartoon, as well as several stage versions (including one by author L. Frank Baum himself in 1902). However, it’s the MGM classic that became the definitive version immediately upon its release 77 years ago this summer. It was nominated for Best Picture (but lost to GONE WITH THE WIND) and won Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Original Song.

The musical, which premiered in London in 2011, is based on the 1939 film, with all your favorite moments reimagined for the stage. That means Munchkins, flying monkeys, and dead witches! And what would Oz be without the vibrant Technicolor hues of the film—ruby slippers on yellow bricks to the Emerald City! Expect the same rainbow palate on stage. In addition to the classic songs, the production features new songs by musical theater legends Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The Wizard of Oz himself, Mark A. Harmon, took a few minutes last week to chat with ATLRetro.

ATLRetro: I’d wager you’ve been an enormous fan of the 1939 MGM masterpiece your entire life, but I guess you don’t necessarily have to be. Why did you want to be in this production?

Mark A. Harmon: Of course! I’ve been a huge fan! I remember as a child one of the major television networks would run it once a year I believe around Thanksgiving. It was always a major event that you waited for all year. I have to admit that when I was asked to audition I was a little hesitant at first. I thought “How can you possibly do a live version that could even come close to the beauty of the movie?” Then I saw some clips from the first national tour and was completely blown away! We’re seven months into the tour and I’m still amazed at the production quality of this show.

Professor Marvel brings his magical wagon to Kansas in THE WIZARD OF OZ stage adaptation.

Professor Marvel brings his magical wagon to Kansas in THE WIZARD OF OZ stage adaptation.

What new does this production bring to the story?

The main story remains faithful to the movie and all the original songs are performed. There are new songs added by the brilliant Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. One of them is “Wonders of the World” which is sung by yours truly as Professor Marvel. There have also been some changes to the dialogue. But rest assured, all your favorite lines are still there.

As an actor, is it difficult preparing for such a famous role?

It is a little daunting at first. There’s always the possibility of being compared to such a well known performance. But each actor brings a unique quality to their role. Even though the audience may have a familiar performance in their head, I believe they quickly start accepting you as that character.

In addition to the 1939 film, there have been countless adaptations, interpretations, sequels and prequels to Baum’s original book (1900). What is it about the story that has kept inspiring revisits to Oz for over a century?

I’m sure there are whole books devoted to answering that question. But for me personally, I think it’s one of the classic coming of age stories. What adolescent hasn’t felt misunderstood and wanted to run away?

Dorothy and her friends meet Oz the Great and Powerful in the Emerald City,

Dorothy and her friends meet Oz the Great and Powerful in the Emerald City,

What’s it like on the road? Do you get to spend any time exploring the cities you visit?

It depends entirely on the schedule. This is my third tour and I’m not going to lie, some can be downright grueling. I’ve done tours where we’ve played five or six cities in one week traveling by bus. I think it’s important for people to know that when you go see a touring show, especially one that is only playing one or two nights, that the actors may very well have spent anywhere up to eight hours on a bus that day. This one, however, has been without a doubt the most enjoyable mainly because of the fact that we’ve been playing each city for no less than a week. It’s been such a treat to be able to have the time to do some real exploring!

Thanks again for chatting with ATLRetro. Break a leg!  Anything else you want to mention?

You’re very welcome and thank you.  I’d just like to say that I’m so excited to be returning to the beautiful Fox Theatre and invite everyone, young and old, to come see this spectacular production of THE WIZARD OF OZ!

The Wizard of Oz runs June 21-26 at The Fox Theatre. Show times and ticket information are available  here. All photos are used with permission.

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Off to Be The Wizard with Mark Jacoby of WICKED, Broadway’s Upside-Down Journey Back to Oz

Posted on: Sep 14th, 2011 By:

Mark Jacoby as the Wizard in WICKED. Photo © Joan Marcus.

From the original L. Frank Baum novel to the 1939 musical movie version of THE WIZARD OF OZ, the tale of Dorothy Gale, her dog Toto and three misfits who deemed themselves incomplete without a physical brain, heart and courage could easily be called the quintessential American fantasy epic. Like Middle Earth is England in simpler, more magical times, Oz is an expression of Retro-Americana Midwestern know-how and whimsy. And that spunky little girl from Kansas, like her prairie counterpart Laura Ingalls Wilder, is an uniquely all-American heroine.

That is, until Gregory Maguire turned that heroine’s journey on its head, gave the Wicked Witch of the West a name, Elphaba, and had the chutzpah to suggest that things went down considerably differently and were rewritten by a government-run, propagandist media, as it were. (Shades of contemporary media politics? Well, the original Oz may have had some circa 1990 political satire between its pages, too.) The Broadway version of Maguire’s novel WICKED is more a twist on the familiar movie than the book, and whether or not you approve of tampering with a classic, the imaginative sets and costumes look even more magical on the Fabulous Fox Theatre stage, where it opens today and will be playing through Oct. 9 as part of the Broadway Across America series.

WICKED focuses on who’s the real good witch and who’s the real bad witch. But actor Mark Jacoby, a Georgia State University alumnus, got to tackle the conundrum of an all-American carnie man who landed in Oz accidentally and found himself, thanks to his seemingly magical balloon-borne arrival, declared Wizard and ruler of the capitol Emerald City. Jacoby is no stranger to playing sympathetic villains, having donned the mask of the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA for three years on Broadway. He’s also stepped into the shoes of many of American musical theater’s most iconic characters including SHOWBOAT’s Gaylord Ravenal (Tony Award nomination for Harold Prince revival), FIDDLER ON THE ROOF’s Tevye (Barrymore Award) and Father in the original Broadway run of RAGTIME. ATLRetro caught up with Mark recently to find out how he approached America’s most famous humbug in this villain-friendly version of Oz.

How is the character of the Wizard different in WICKED than in the 1939 movie WIZARD OF OZ and even the book? Do you think it is different? One of the intriguing things about this piece is how it’s been overlaid on the story we’re all so familiar with, mostly from the movie WIZARD OF OZ. They are the same people theoretically in context. You’re just looking at them from a different angle. I suppose an actor doesn’t have to take that literally. He can do what he wants. But I tend to think and the powers that be also do, that I should approach him as the same character we encountered in THE WIZARD OF OZ.  You just find out different things, and different things are emphasized. He’s flushed out a bit more. There’s more explanation as to how he got there, why he’s there, and what makes him tick.

The Wizard's dramatic counterfeit persona from the original Broadway company of WICKED. Photo © Joan Marcus.

I think the Wizard of Oz was someone who was in the right place at at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time, whichever way you look at it. He’s regarded by the people of Oz as somewhat supernatural. As he says, I never asked for this, I was just blown here by the wings of chance. One could take that literally or is he telling a story? I choose to think he is talking literally. He has wound up in this situation, but he wasn’t malevolent. He wasn’t planning to become a tyrant or anyone overbearing with the population, but now he’s stuck with it. I’m not saying he’s a perfect man. He got hooked with all the adulation and all the power and all he has to do to maintain it.

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