By H.B. Forman
21st Century Media News Service
Lea Michele’s life has been somewhere over the rainbow for a very long time since her starring turn on the hit TV series “Glee,” making hit music on her debut studio album “Louder” and getting to know her favorite Broadway stars.
If that weren’t enough, the raven-haired actress now finds herself stepping into those famous ruby slippers and heading to Oz as the legendary character Dorothy Gale.
Michele, a 27-year-old with an astounding voice that reminds everyone of songs belted out by her idol Barbra Streisand, was recently thrilled to chat about “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return,” an animated musical feature. The movie opens on May 9.
In this version of the new animated film musical, Dorothy Gale returns to Kansas to find it has been devastated. Dorothy then finds a new way to get back to the Land of Oz only to discover that her old friends — the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion — and the entire Land of Oz are all in grave danger.
With the land beyond the rainbow, Emerald City, in peril, there is only one person who can save the day: Dorothy. With her little dog, Toto, by her side she takes children and adults on a journey beyond the imagination, accompanied by a new team of heroes, along with a few of our longtime favorites.
In addition to the voice of Michele, the movie stars: Dan Ackroyd as The Scarecrow, Kelsey Grammer as the Tin Man, Jim Belushi as the Cowardly Lion, Megan Hilty as China Princess, Hugh Dancy as Marshal Mallow, Oliver Platt as Wiser the Owl, Martin Short as The Jester and Bernadette Peters as Glinda the Good Witch.
On Dorothy’s new journey through Oz, she meets new friends like a china doll princess, a marshmallow man named Marshal Mallow, a large owl named Wiser and an ancient tree-turned-tugboat named Tugg. With the help of her new friends, they band together against a wicked Jester who wants to control Oz by turning important people into marionettes.
Michele was born in the Bronx, to a mom, who is a nurse, and dad, who is a deli owner. She was home-schooled for one year while working in Toronto on the musical “Ragtime.”
She attended Stagedoor Manor in the Catskills, a center for performing arts training, and was then later accepted to the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, but opted instead to continue working professionally on the stage.
Michele adopted her stage name at an early age; when she went on her first audition, she gave her name as “Lea Michele,” and has used it ever since because no one could pronounce her given last name of Sarfati.
Broadway musicals are her passion. So stepping into Judy Garland’s ruby slippers for this movie was more thrilling than daunting for the accomplished actress, who adores the original MGM musical.
“Getting to get to be Dorothy is so amazing,” Michele said. “I didn’t go a day in my childhood without watching ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ I actually watched it in my house so much that at one point my mother had to hide the videotape.”
If watching the classic movie wasn’t enough, Michele truly got into character.
“I wore my ruby slippers, and I have this crazy Christmas video of me where every year for 10 years I’m still wearing my ruby slippers because I thought I was Dorothy.”
She said she loved the animation process, although it is different from her TV and other film work.
“The animation process is so crazy. You go and record your voice work and then the movie doesn’t come out until years later because it takes such a long time to basically draw and create all the animation and everything. So, we did it such a long time ago. But it’s finally coming out now in May and I couldn’t be more excited.”
Seeing the completed movie for the first time was pure joy.
“All of the colors and effects and everything being done, it was so amazing. I loved being able to sing in it along with Megan Hilty and Bernadette Peters. They are so incredibly talented.”
For Michele the appeal of this movie is that a new audience of children will be exposed to the story of the Wizard of Oz, alongside their parents and grandparents who grew up adoring the original. “All of that makes me so happy doing it.”
She said that “Glee” has done a terrific job of opening up people to Broadway music and exposed these songs to people who may not have had an opportunity to hear them before. “I am so proud to be on ‘Glee.’”
She is also thrilled that another dream of hers could be coming true. Glee creator Ryan Murphy has obtained the stage rights to
“Funny Girl,” so when Glee comes to an end, Michele could be the leading lady, portraying Streisand’s iconic role as Fanny Brice.
“Everything is timing. Now was the right time for this movie about Dorothy and Oz,” explained Michele. “So when the time is right and I have had the chance to get some good rest for a while after ‘Glee’ and I feel ready to do it, then definitely we will do it.”