A journey from 1903 to the present: How Mr Gershowitz and the staff of Page2Stage Entertainment have gone from the written word of L. Frank Baum to the stage world.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz started it's life as a story being told to Baum's son's and his young niece, and their friends over a long period of time. There have been many books, and documents on the story's beginning and a movie called "The Dreamer of Oz" about Baum's life and the creation of Oz and its many strange creatures and people who live there.
Baum started out doing different jobs and trying out many different carriers, such as, chicken breading, oil sales, news paper writer and editor, and actor. He opened a large store called 'Baum's Bizarre', it was after (or during) a lot of these different jobs that he showed his talent for telling stories. He was told by his wife to write the stories about the "Magic Land" called Oz down and try to get it published. With the love and support of his wife, and his mother in law, Matilda Joslyn Gage (a women who was one of the heads of the Women's sufferage movement) the book "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" was published in 1900. Later, in 1902, a Broadway stage musical (very loosely based on the book) was produced. His first draft of the script was closer to the Book than the finished show, it had Dorothy as a girl, had Toto, and most of everything, but the producers told him it needed to be "fixed up" to be made more salable than the book was. So they made Dorothy a teenager, with a love interest, added characters that didn't need to be there, made the lion mute, and had Dorothy bring a cow to oz with her instead of the sweet, lovable k-9 known as Toto.
The Broadway musical was well received. So much so, that it went on tour, and lasted longer as a tour than on the Broadway stage. The costumes and special effects (for their day) were nothing any of the audience had ever seen done before. It was over the top, and made stars of their Scarecrow, Fred Stone, and Tin Man, David C Montgomery. "The Wizard of Oz" was a 1902 musical play extravaganza, with most of the music by Paul Tietjens, and lyrics by L. Frank Baum.
It premiered in Chicago and later moved to Broadway in 1903, where it ran for 293 performances from January 21, 1903 to December 31, 1904, followed by traveling tours of the original cast. It starred Anna Laughlin as Dorothy Gale & Arthur Hill (no relation to the Canadian actor) played the Cowardly Lion, but in this version, his role was reduced to a bit part. An element from the show — the snowfall caused by the Good Witch, which defeats the spell of the poppies that had put Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion to sleep — was later used in the famous 1939 movie. Dorothy Gale's surname was introduced in this piece. It was not mentioned in the original novel, though it is mentioned in Ozma of Oz (1907).
The musical is unusual as it is sometimes very faithful to the book, but at other times departs radically, mostly due to revisions of the script that Baum did not originally put in.
The origins of the idea of dramatising The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on stage is debatable. L. Frank Baum claimed once that a woman walked up to him on the street one day and suggested that the book be adapted to the stage. This, however, is unlikely. But, for whatever reason, Baum, his friend Paul Tietjens, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz illustrator, W. W. Denslow, got together to attempt to bring the novel to the stage. They had a basic formula worked out: Baum would write the stage script, Tietjens would write the songs and Denslow would design the costumes and sets (which he would pattern after his illustrations). Baum completed the script, Tietjens completed the songs and Denslow complete the costume and set designs. They submitted this package to producer Fred R. Hamlin in hope he would accept it.
Hamlin liked it, and approached Julian Mitchell to be director. Mitchell received the script and read it. He did not like it, criticizing its lack of spectacle, calling it too subdued and small-scale. However, he sent a wire to Hamlin with the message 'Can see possibilities for extravanganza'. Thus, Mitchell accepted the project. However, he brought in new songwriters to write a new set of songs, keeping only one or two of the original Tietjens numbers. He totally rewrote the script, introducing new characters, exploits, giving the Cowardly Lion a smaller part and deleting the character of the Wicked Witch of the West entirely. Baum was anxious about this, but went along with it, hoping Mitchell's experience in directing and the casting of comedy teams, would make the show a hit. It was, luckily, a roaring success and broke records in almost every theatre it played in.
The witches are largely absent in this version; The Good Witch of the North appears, named Locasta, and The Wicked Witch of the East is a special effect. The Wicked Witch of the West does not appear, and Glinda was written out, as she does not appear in the original Broadway cast list (although she does appear on another one). The reason for her omission was because she appeared only in Act Three, and in 1903 the whole of Act Three was rewritten by Julian Mitchell and revolved around the Borderland that divides Oz and Glinda's Domain, and Dorothy and her friends trying to escape Pastoria.
New characters in the script include King Pastoria II, Oz's true king, working as a Kansas motorman and his girlfriend, Trixie Tryfle, a waitress. His return takes up a bit more of the story than Dorothy's desire to return home. Another subplot includes Cynthia Cynch, the Lady Lunatic, a prototype for Nimmie Amee, in that she is the Tin Woodman's girlfriend. Niccolo Chopper was renowned for his ability to play the piccolo, which was the subject of one of her songs, and he is shown playing a piccolo in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which, the first Oz film made without Baum, was highly influenced by the popular play. The Wizard was presented as various ethnic stock character stereotypes, depending upon who played him. He was assisted by Sir Wiley Gyle and General Riskitt. David L. Greene and Dick Martin erroneously captioned a picture of General Riskitt as "Sir Wiley Gyle" in The Oz Scrapbook, and Donald Abbott carried this mistake over into his illustrations for How the Wizard Saved Oz.
The animals in the play, including the Cowardly Lion, did not speak, based on pantomime. His quest for courage is completely omitted, much as the other characters' quests are deemphasized in favor of various comic routines. Ultimately, though, their desire to seek the Wizard's aid gets them caught on the wrong side of the revolution, jailed and ultimately scheduled for execution. In a deus ex machina, another tornado arrives to sweep Dorothy home from the chopping block.
Many new plot twists are virtually pointless. In addition to a kiss of protection, Dorothy gets three wishes, one of which is wasted on a triviality. The second is used to bring the Scarecrow to life, and the third is used so she can learn the song Sir Dashemoff Daily (a trouser role) has written to his girlfriend, Carrie Barry. This song was written by Baum and Tietjens, but some programs credited the song to Glen MacDonough and A. Baldwin Sloane to make their connection to the play look greater.
Probably the biggest influence on the 1939 MGM film, aside from making the story into a musical (for which many at MGM thought this show's classic songs should be utilized, though they were outvoted), is the Poppy Sequence that ended Act I. In the novel, Baum imaginatively has a legion of field mice pull a cart with the Cowardly Lion out of the poppy field. This was deemed unfeasible (though the stage version of The Wiz created a variation, with the mice as anthropomorphic vice cops), and Baum, though he included it in the 1901 script, replaced the scene with that of the Snow Queen creating a storm that destroys the poppies, much as Glinda does in the 1939 movie. This concluded Act I with an elaborate dance known as "Winter Jubilation", which James Patrick Doyle plays on synthesizers on the album, Before the Rainbow: The Original Music of Oz.
Because there were no cast albums in those days, productions of the musical often exceeded four hours in length because of multiple demands for encores, since many of the attendees knew they would never get to attend again, and these encores were responded to. Popular songs were often sung multiple times and this was often used to gauge whether a song should be retained or dropped.
The musical comedy was performed, in a concert version, in New York City in the 1980s by the New Amsterdam Theatre Company. And it has been revived in Tarpon Springs, FL. by The New Century Opera Company in 1998 and, most recently, July 2006. Hungry Tiger Press announced, several years ago, that it would be publishing the complete libretto for the first time, but it has been delayed years beyond the original announcement on claims of finding new material, though many suspect the sudden death of James Patrick Doyle was the major factor. There have been several new recordings of the songs, though none have had major distribution.
The Canton Comic Opera Company, in Canton, OH., the only theatre company in the world dedicated solely to the preservation and performance of American operettas, has recently completed a restoration of the original 1903 Broadway version which was performed in July, 2010. Their production was the first in over 80 years with full orchestra. The New Century Opera recorded the Baum/Tietjens music on CD, but the accompaniment was on piano and there was quite a bit of role doubling.