“The Wonderful Wizard of Song,” stopping for a quick visit at 710 Main this weekend, is much like “The Wizard of Oz” itself.
When it first starts, you kind of wonder if you’re going to like it, just like those black and white scenes on Auntie Em’s farm. Of course the songs are good; the subtitle of the show is “The Music of Harold Arlen,” so how could they be otherwise? But the show itself had a few bumps to overcome while the Three Crooners were adjusting to the stage. The “follow” spotlights failed to follow at first and sometimes left the guys singing in the dark; the four-piece band outnumbered and out-voiced the crooners, and there were a couple of minor microphone issues.
Not to worry. A tornado named Antoinette Henry soon joined the men on stage and, just like in the movie, they swept the whole show to a more colorful, magical place.
Singing “Blues in the Night” in a deep blue gown, Henry reminded the audience that Arlen, born and raised in Buffalo, was as much about blues as he was about rainbows. And, in a tribute to Pearl Bailey, she also showed that he can knock a song out of the park, “Come Rain or Come Shine.”
The power punch came, however, when Henry slid into “Stormy Weather” and carried it home about midway in the show.
By then, the technical problems were resolved and the singers had found their comfort zone. George Bugatti, Joe Shepherd and Buffalo native Marcus Goldhaber shared a happy camaraderie as they sang and danced (sort of ...) through Arlen’s career, from his early days as a “songwriter for hire” to a steady gig making music for performers at the Cotton Club in New York City and, eventually, his move to Hollywood in the 1930s.
Ask any 10 people on the street to name 10 songs written by Harold Arlen and most would be lucky to come up with “Over the Rainbow.” But start humming any 10 songs by Harold Arlen, and they probably all would start singing along.
And it is surprising how many of those songs were able to fit in this 80-minute show. “Get Happy,” “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “Accentuate the Positive” and a cute little number that we learn Arlen wrote in the bathroom, “Let’s Fall in Love.”
Goldhaber and Henry do a sprightly “Paper Moon,” and Bugatti has a warm solo with “Anyplace I Hang My Hat Is Home.” Everyone gets into the act for “Minnie the Moocher’s Wedding Day,” and the Crooners shine in a lingering version of “One for My Baby.”
Considering what comes before, it’s hard to say they saved the best for last. Consider it, instead, the most familiar: a fun and tender tribute to the songs from “The Wizard of Oz,” including the one Arlen had to fight to keep in the film, the one that almost got away, “Over the Rainbow.”