SAN DIEGO - Hall H at the San Diego Convention Center holds 6,000 people and is usually reserved for major motion picture franchises or the hottest hit television series. On Saturday afternoon, it was the setting for "Further Over the Rainbow: A First Look at Dorothy of Oz," a panel for the new animated film that won't be released until August 2012. Fans of the source material, L. Frank Baum's 1900 novel "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," accounted for a number of people crowded into the huge room, but the reason the venue was filled was clearly the first ever Comic-Con appearance by actor Sir Patrick Stewart, famed among the convention crowd for his starring roles in two popular franchises: "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "X-Men."
Stewart, who portrays Tugg, an ancient tree that becomes a tugboat, was one of two voice actors from "Dorothy of Oz" on the panel, joining Broadway star Megan Hilty ("Wicked," "9 to 5"), who plays the China Doll Princess. They were accompanied by producers Bonne Radford and Ryan Carroll and composer Deborah Lurie ("Prom," "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never"), who told the fans, "It's a brand-new musical with seven brand-new songs. A lot of my work as composer is still to come as the film comes together in post-production."
Lurie told the crowd that the seven songs were written by Bryan Adams (and songwriting partner Jim Vallance), Jim Dooley and Tift Merrit. Radford introduced a clip of Adams talking about his voice-over role in the film as Beaver Foreman and later told Billboard he would perform his song "Work With Me" on the soundtrack.
Explaining how Adams came to work on the movie, Radford said, "Vicki Hiatt, our music supervisor, worked with him on 'Spirit' at DreamWorks. He really has a great love of animation and he's an incredibly hard worker. He'd write a song in an hour - he'd go on stage and come back and have a new verse he just composed in his head. It was an amazing process with him."
Carroll told Billboard, "We always envisioned (the film) as a musical. It had to be." Radford confirmed, "We couldn't do an Oz movie without songs. It's the tradition of Oz. These songs are about the characters and the progression of the story." Acknowledging the film's musical predecessors, including the 1939 movie "The Wizard of Oz," the stage musical and movie adaptation "The Wiz" and Broadway's "Wicked," Radford praised the composer of the songs in the film that starred Judy Garland: "Harold Arlen was an unbelievable songwriter and a really tough act to follow."
Sony Music will release the "Dorothy of Oz" soundtrack with songs performed by Hilty and Adams as well as voice cast members Martin Short and Hugh Dancy and the film's Dorothy Gale, Lea Michele. The "Glee" star wasn't present at the panel but her song "When the World Is Upside Down" was previewed for the Comic-Con crowd, played over a montage of scenes from the film.
Asked by a fan why he wanted to do this film, Stewart replied, "It's a privilege to be associated with something so iconic and historic in terms of the movie business." After a dramatic pause, the British actor complained, "(But) I don't have a number." Hilty quickly interjected, "Yet!" and Stewart retorted, "Are you serious? You mean I might have?"
When the panel ended, Stewart told Billboard exclusively, "I sing a little. I would be fascinated to see what kind of song they could possibly create. Apparently there is a sequence that everybody sings in, which I could join, just doing back-up vocals. I haven't done a stage musical for many, many, many years. But I have done a number of concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. I sang in concert versions of 'Sweeney Todd,' 'Camelot' and 'The King and I.' I can't talk about it, but I've been asked to do a concert version of a musical I've wanted to do all my life, with a very distinguished symphony orchestra here in the United States, and I'm going to make it work."