As you walk into the Fox Theatre to see Sing-A-Long Wizard of Oz, you'll be handed a bag full of goodies -- noisemakers, bubbles, kazoos -- not unlike the kit of accoutrements recommended for a midnight screening of Rocky Horror. Many theatergoers will be in costume, and many of them will be Munchkin-sized. This new interactive production of the "most beloved motion picture of all time" has played to sold-out audiences in Chicago and is making the trip to St. Louis the first week of February as it begins its world tour.
So what is this, exactly? Well, it's The Wizard of Oz -- and we trust you all know the story (shorthand version: girl, song, tornado, Munchkins, murder, acquisition of distinctive Manolos, song, journey, song, time to wake up). This is a fully interactive production of a fully remastered print, which includes subtitles for all of the musical numbers, similar to Sing-A-Long Sound of Music, which has played at the Fox in years past. Since Oz became an annual television event, it's a rare treat to see it on the big screen, let alone on a screen as massive as the one at the Fox.
And at home you won't be entertained by emcee Ed Coffield, who introduces the film and instructs the crowd in the fine art of audience-participation: You hiss at the Wicked Witch and mock her theme on the kazoo, you bark when Toto runs in, and you sing, sing, sing along. Coffield also oversees the costume contest that precedes the movie, encouraging the audience to cheer as kids (and adults) wrapped in tin foil (like the Tin Man) or covered in miniature houses and cattle (a twister, Auntie Em!) march across the stage.
A Sing-A-Long Wizard of Oz seems long overdue; after all, this is the film that's inspired grown-up bits of weirdness as varied as Zardoz (the Sean Connery sci-fi "classic") and David Lynch's Wild at Heart, not to mention that Pink Floyd-inspired bit of accidental, multimedia synchronicity a few years back (dude, if you watch it with Dark Side playing...). Those corruptions aside, the great director Victor Fleming's Wizard of Oz is an endurance runner in the twentieth-century cultural marathon, next to such classics as Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life and Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (neither of which would make a good sing-a-long). The film has captivated audiences since its premiere in 1939 -- a golden year for American cinema, sure, but not a golden year for Western civilization, which was quickly going from bad to worse.
Enter The Wizard of Oz, which, as clichéd as it sounds, made magic. On the big screen and in the presence of an enthusiastic crowd, epic films such as this have the ability to dissolve the most hardened sense of irony and make grim reality flutter away. It's magical, if only for a couple of hours -- and that's before the kazoo.