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The Music of Oz
"We didn't feel like we could continue the cinematic tradition of THE WIZARD OF OZ and not have it be a musical," says Radford. "But we wanted our own take on it. The original is brilliant, and people are still singing the songs. But we do want to make something that is our signature." To create that unique sound, the producers enlisted music supervisor Vicki Hiatt, whose worked on both live action (NINE AND A HALF WEEKS, DANGEROUS MINDS) and animated films (PRINCE OF EGYPT, OPEN SEASON), and had a very distinct vision for the music of the film.

"Oz is a product of America. It's an American story. And I felt for this music that I wanted to go with an Americana swing to it; it's kind of where country and pop get together, but folk is in there, too," says Hiatt. That meant enlisting a diverse but talented crew of songwriters to adapt the narrative into song, especially those who understood how to create music that felt organic in the scheme of that narrative. "We're not going to say, 'okay, stop the movie, this one's going to sing a song about Oz.' That's not the way it goes." It was also important to utilize the gifts of the actors involved in the project. According to producer Radford, "We hired songwriters to take advantage of the beautiful vocal talents of Lea Michele, as well as our other actors who all sang."

Academy Award-nominated songwriter Bryan Adams and his writing partner Jim Vallance fit that bill, to the excitement of many of the voice cast. "I kind of had a mini heart attack when I heard that Bryan Adams was writing the music for LEGENDS OF OZ: DOROTHY'S RETURN because I've been a huge fan of his my entire life," says Hilty. "It's a dream come true and a real honor to be singing his music. And it's gorgeous."

Adams and Vallance's approach was not to look back, but to look forward to a new vision of this world. "I don't think Jim and I really realized what kind of insanity we were stepping into," says Adams. "But I think I was just thinking about the storyline of the songs and not thinking about the past. Also, I was given some reference pictures, and they didn't resemble the Oz I remembered, so I was thinking about this film being a new story."

One of the key songs on the soundtrack, which encapsulates the film's central values of teamwork and community, is the Adams and Vallance-written ditty "Work With Me." Says Ryan Carroll, "Bryan Adams did a fantastic job bringing it all together. I start tapping and I get into it every time I hear it. The essence of the story is work with me - it can bring it all together." And yet what's most remarkable is that song came together for the writing duo just as quickly as the film's characters come together to transform Tugg from a tree into a boat in the scene where the song appears in the film.

"I work really well to a deadline," explains Adams. "So when Vicki Hiatt called me up and said, 'I'm sitting here with Bonne [Radford] and we need to get a song about people working together,' I thought, 'Give me ten minutes and I'll call you back.' I just happened to be sitting with Jim, and we put together an idea and sent it to them, and it's in the film. With music, it's always been about the gut, and sometimes the moment is now."

Hiatt also tapped a songwriter that she, herself, had been yearning to work with for years. "I was always attracted to the voice and the work of a lady named Tift Merritt," says Hiatt. "She decided to write us a love song ("Even Then") and a Dorothy song ("When the World"). They are just beautiful; they are heartfelt."

Merritt felt equally as charmed to work collaborate with the team on LEGENDS OF OZ: DOROTHY'S RETURN. "It was one of those really lucky things where, in thinking about Dorothy, they wanted a female writer to write for her, and they wanted a point of view that was kind of earthy and honest, which is what I do. So it was one of those happy times where they come and find out and say, 'We want you to be yourself,' which hardly ever happens in life!"

Merritt's honest way of storytelling through song made the raw emotions shine through on "When the World," which Dorothy sings early on in the film while she feels powerless in light of the devastation the tornado brought to Kansas. "Where I began was thinking about how I felt when I was a little girl and I was lost - and sometimes how I feel as a grown woman when I'm lost. But most of all, I listened to Dan [St. Pierre]. I loved trying to serve his vision. We were working on this song before there was picture, and the script was changing. So on the one hand, we were writing a song, but on another hand, we were shaping the film."

Merritt's other contribution to the film is "Even Then," a hopeful ballad that speaks not only to Marshal Mallow and the China Princess' romance, but also Dorothy's perseverance against her struggles in Oz, emerged as a favorite among the trio who got to perform it together. Says Michele, "One of the songs I particularly loved recording was 'Even Then,' which I got to sing with Hugh Dancy and the amazing Megan Hilty, whom I love so much." Hilty agrees, "One of my favorite moments in the film is the song 'Even Then.' The melody is gorgeous, but the lyrics are what make this song beautiful. They're written by Tift Merritt, who's fantastic - I feel very lucky that I get to sing this song."

Even Dancy, as the novice singer, found pleasure working on the song. "I was very pleased, flattered and perhaps a little surprised to be asked to sing, because it's something that I've done a little bit of, but not like, say, Lea," say's Dancy. "You try and think about getting the character of Marshal into it as well rather than just trying to sound nice, which is enough of a challenge itself. But it was a great experience."

Rounding out the vocal tracks are tunes by composer Jim Dooley and lyricist Mike Himelstein. Says Radford, "The person who seemed to be the ideal - who had the chops, the persistence, and the experience - was a guy called Jim Dooley. He was doing a television show "Pushing Daisies," which was a lot like animation. It was really pushed, really saturated, had musical numbers, had all the elements." It also won him an Emmy for "Best Original Dramatic Score." Working with Himelstein. enabled Hiatt to work with another artist on her wish list. "I've been a fan of Michael Himelstein for a long time. He writes a lot of good lyrics for movies, for Disney films all over, lots of animation." The admiration was mutual. Notes Himelstein. "Vicki Hiatt is one of the really great music supervisors. There's nothing she doesn't know about music."

A signature theme attributed to Dooley and Himelstein. is the track that explains the back-story of the Jester. "The Jester's looking back on his life and explaining how he came to this point. He's had a rough go of it, and we're trying to explain why he is the way he is in a two minute song. That's the challenge," says Himelstein. "But he's a complex character, and we're trying to bring that out to show everybody what he's all about. And writing for Martin Short is really great, because I'm a huge fan and I kept him in mind as I was working."

Dooley expanded the palette of sound to create a distinct melody for the Jester. "The story really revolves around Dorothy, but the Jester is the one kind of holding the strings, which is actually funny, because he turns everyone into marionettes. He's the catalyst of making everything go wrong in Oz, which is why Dorothy returns to fix it. So because he's a Jester, I wanted to incorporate some of these circus ideas and carousel sounds to his theme. But he's the villain, so how do you do it in such a way that you know he's bad, but make a song out it?"

Dooley found his inspiration in the real world - and then created his own custom instrument. "We went to Staten Island, New York and actually recorded a real carousel. Then we came back here into the studio and made a virtual instrument out of its sound so I could actually perform the carousel," says Dooley. The resulting sound is creepy with hints of humor - the perfect music representation of Oz's latest villain.

But the music of Oz is not just comprised of the vocal tracks. "It's a blended world of music," says Hiatt, "drawing from both contemporary music with electric guitars and drums to full orchestral moments. Every composition helps to define each distinct world within Oz." Composer Toby Chu was tasked with developing the score that would connect these distinct worlds, characters, and songs. Taking inspiration from the original 1939 film THE WIZZARD OF OZ, Chu recorded the score for the LEGENDS OF OZ: DOROTHY'S RETURN on the same soundstage where Judy Garland recorded "Somewhere over the Rainbow."

"The big difference between scoring how I normally would, and a musical like this is working around songs by Tift Merritt, Jim Dooley and Bryan Adams. It's an advantage, in a way, because you have some sort of musical direction already. But it's also complicated because you have to weave something through these songs and give it some sort of thread throughout the film."

Not only was Chu conscientious of creating this universal link through the music, but he was also mindful of creating a link to the 1939 film. "Looking back to THE WIZARD OF OZ, I'm not exactly trying to do the same thing. What they did was absolutely brilliant. The goal is to pay homage to it, to be in the same family to some degree, but also bring something new."

Hiatt's goal in light of the original film was similarly simple: "I plan on paying an homage to the original WIZARD OF OZ by having songs in our movie that people remember and want to sing." If you ask Lea Michele, they've accomplished just that. "There are songs that have that really gorgeous, lyrical heart to them," says Michele. "And there were really fun, bright, happy songs that you just love to sing. At the end of the day, you find yourself humming them in the car, at home. It's such an awesome soundtrack, and I can't wait for everyone to hear it."


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