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The Cowardly Lion Really Is a Friend of Dorothy

Gary M. Kramer

Gary M. Kramer

Lee MacDougall, who plays the Cowardly Lion in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new stage production of “The Wizard of Oz,” isn’t looking for the Yellow Brick Road in San Francisco. He’d rather hang out in the Castro. “San Francisco is like a paradise to me,” he recently told the Bay Times. “I’ve traveled to a lot of places while on tour, but San Francisco is a favorite.”

MacDougall, born in Northern Ontario, Canada, even did live here for three months, while he played “Harry” in the original cast of “Mamma Mia!” But now he’s journeying through the magical land of Oz on stage at the Orpheum Theatre during a short two-week run engagement. The show is an enchanting adaptation of the treasured classic, adapted and reconceived for the stage by Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams. It contains all of the beloved songs from the Oscar-winning score, but adds new songs by Lloyd Webber and longtime songwriting collaborator Tim Rice.

“I love the role,” MacDougall says. “It’s a lot of fun. The adaptation we are doing is very faithful to the film, but there’s more humor for kids and adults too.”

There’s been some unintentional humor on stage as well, thanks to real dog Toto. MacDougall explains that some of the dogs playing the role are ultra professional, such as a very trained one that has performed in the musical “Annie.” Others…not so much. “We’d call out, “Toto!” and the dog would come, or sometimes just run around the stage.”

The most memorable stage moment probably was when MacDougall met Tim French- now his husband- during another, earlier production of “The Wizard of Oz” in Toronto. “I was playing the Scarecrow in that production,” MacDougall recalls. French, a talented director and choreographer, was one of three Crows. “A very sexy Crow,” MacDougall adds. The two now share a home in Stratford, Ontario.

MacDougall has many credits as an actor, notably spending six seasons with the Stratford Festival, but he also works as a director and writer. The film of High Life, for which he wrote the screenplay, concerns four morphine addicts who try to rob a bank machine. The film earned him a nomination for a Writer’s Guild of Canada Screenwriting Award in 2010 and a nomination for a Genie Award for Best Adapted Screenplay the following year.

Wizard of Oz, Mirvish Productions Toronto

The drug of choice in Oz, however, is poppies. You won’t even need those once you mentally escape into this colorful, entertaining production. MacDougall’s Cowardly Lion is joined by the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, Wizard, and Dorothy, who is played by Danielle Wade. The Canadian public, through CBC TV’s reality show “Over the Rainbow,” chose her. “We won a bit of a lottery ourselves, since she is quite wonderful,” MacDougall praises. We think the same about MacDougall, who has volunteered and earned substantial funds for several charities. We look forward to seeing him on stage, as well as enjoying our Castro hospitality these next few weeks.

“The Wizard of Oz” is at the Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market Street at 8th, until October 27. For tickets and more information, please call 888-746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com/online/wizardofoz #OzSHN.