Owing to Nikko being a minor role, I was also cast as a Munchkin, but the idea was hit upon pretty early in the process to expand Nikko’s role and have him appear with the Wicked Witch of the West nearly every time she showed up. This meant that right after the Munchkinland sequence, I had to dash backstage and put on the elaborate monkey make-up and costume.
Nikko’s face was a “Planet of the Apes”-type appliance which I glued to my face with liquid latex. Though there were one or two tense moments now and again as far as getting everything in place in time, Nikko was always on time for his first appearance alongside his evil mistress, in the Tin Woodman’s introductory scene.
The rest of the Winged Monkeys were played by eight children in the cast, which jibed nicely with Baum’s description of the Monkey King as being “much bigger than the others.” They wore simple monkey masks, since some of them had to switch from Monkeys into Jitterbugs, and back into Monkeys again. We all had snug-fitting fuzzy brown hoods and gloves of the same material. The rest of our ensemble consisted of former high school band uniforms with bright orange jackets.
Because the name of the school was embroidered on the right shoulder of each jacket, I created some name plates out of shiny gold posterboard to be safety pinned over the school name. Each of these bore the words WINGED MONKEYS at the top and the mock-Latin legend “Sic Transit Gloria Primatus Avis” at the bottom, with each Monkey’s name in the middle.
I named them all after simian characters from movies and television: Zaius, Zira, and Cornelius (from the Planet of the Apes movies), Galen and Urko (fro the television series of the same name), Gori (the name of the alien ape antagonist of the Japanese superhero Spectreman), Rafiki (the baboon wise man of the Lion King films), and Kong (this was given to the smallest of the Monkeys). We also had some snazzy (if I do say so myself) “WM” logos on our chests. Our tails were attached to the jackets, and our large felt wings (mine being yellowish and theirs being brown) were stitched to our sleeves.
So, though I didn’t get to be the King of the Forest, it turned out to be, as I said before, a fun time being the King of the Winged Monkeys. My girlfriend (now my wife) came to the show on opening night and afterwards presented me with a dozen long-stemmed bananas! These I shared out among my Monkeys.
The role even affected my choice of what to bring to the cast party. Seeing that I brought a Baker’s Square box, the director asked me what flavor the pie was.
“Well,” said I, “consider the source.”
“Banana cream?” he asked, and of course he was right!