'Over the Rainbow' Escapes MGM Purge for Stage Revival
Newly unearthed arrangements of the 'Wizard of Oz' ballad are "a revelation," says song stylist Michael Feinstein, who'll be cheered by Liza Minnelli when he leads the Pasadena Pops in a faithful rendition Sept. 14.
A few months ago, famed song stylist Michael Feinstein was helping his friend Angela White, daughter of composer Dave Rose — who was married to Judy Garland from 1941 to 1944 — move some filing boxes at her office in L.A.'s Studio City. When he noticed a folder marked "Over the Rainbow," he peeked inside — and was overjoyed at what he found. "It contained vintage set parts for the song's original film arrangement," says Feinstein, 62, who's also known as an anthropologist and archivist for the Great American Songbook.
While a composition as iconic as Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow" may seem immutable, most versions of the ballad from 1939's The Wizard of Oz are reconstructed by ear. That's because James T. Aubrey, who ran MGM from 1969 to 1973, ordered the studio to trash all of its film score library — what Feinstein calls "an incalculable tragedy." By keeping a complete set of original parts for the song, Rose unwittingly salvaged a critical piece of Hollywood musical history.
Now Feinstein will bring that bit of history to life: On Sept. 14, at an evening dedicated to classic MGM musicals at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, he'll conduct the Pasadena Pops in a rendition of "Over the Rainbow" based on those unearthed orchestrations. "The original chart has a lot of orchestral sections that cannot be heard on the old soundtrack, so it will be a true revelation for people to hear what they have literally never heard before," says Feinstein. Of course, the performance won't feature the legendary vocals of a then-17-year-old Garland — that honor will fall to Tony winner Karen Ziemba — but Garland will be there in spirit via her daughter, Liza Minnelli.
"My mother would have been proud to know that her original MGM chart of 'Over The Rainbow' is being revived and played again after 80 years," says Minnelli, 73. "The arrangers were always very important to her, from Nelson Riddle and Gordon Jenkins to Conrad Salinger and Skip Martin at MGM. She sometimes worked with them to craft the sound she wanted from the orchestra and had the best 'ears' in the business. I'll be there to cheer Michael on and only wish that she could have been there, too."
Minnelli doesn't feel the same warmth toward Roadside Attractions' Garland biopic Judy, starring Renée Zellweger, which gets its world premiere Sept. 10 at the Toronto International Film Festival and opens in theaters Sept. 27. The film is an adaptation of End of the Rainbow, a 2012 Broadway play that emphasized the more tragic aspects of Garland's life, including her struggles with addiction and their toll on her personal relationships. Minnelli has said she doesn't "endorse the upcoming film about Judy Garland in any way." After all, "The greatest tribute to my mother is to watch her own movies, not a film about her," she says. "No one can sing like Mama!"
This story first appeared in the Sept. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.