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Further Stage Adventures in Oz, Part Thirty-five: A Truly Wonderful "Wizard"

Cascone and Doyle, the men behind the screen-- er, scenes.
Cascone and Doyle, the men behind the screen-- er, scenes.
Photo composite by Peter Heimsoth; photos property of the Toronto Civic Light Opera Company and Steve Lowry

Your humble History of Oz Examiner was so impressed with the soundtrack for The Toronto Civic Light Opera Company’s 2000 musical The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and with the producer/co-creator Joe Cascone’s conviction (of which he spoke in the CD’s liner notes) that the Baum book deserved greater recognition, that I e-mailed him with my glowing review of his and songwriter James P. Doyle’s work. The exchange became a series of e-mails in which we talked about all things Oz, and during which I learned of the sad and premature death of Mr. Doyle in January of 2002; more will be said about him and his life and career later.

Through this correspondence I found out more about the structure of the show. Joining the usual Munchkins, Winged Monkeys (who once again spoke after having been unable to do so in the MGM Wizard), and timorous Winkies, many denizens of Oz appeared on stage for the first time, including Boq the Munchkin, the kindly Stork, and the Hammer-heads. The Kalidahs and the Field Mice, having appeared in altered guises in The Wiz, made their return to the stage, as well as the Queen of the Field Mice, last seen on stage in the “prototype” Wiz.

As in the stage version of The Wiz, Toto (played by a real dog) stayed home in Kansas, accentuating Dorothy’s loneliness and intensifying her wish to get home. Not that this Dorothy feels sorry for herself— no indeed! Cascone specifically set out to present Baum’s child heroine as bold, imaginative, and eager for adventure.

The most noteworthy innovation, of course, was that the role of Dorothy Gale was actually played by a child. Or actually two children; the role was double cast.

In preparing for this article, I asked Joe how the show came to be, and indeed how a Canadian and a Texan wound up collaborating on it.

“I wanted to celebrate the Oz centennial in 2000 with a stage production with the Toronto CLO that would do just that. Originally, I was going to compile an ‘anthology score,’ using songs from every musical stage, film and television version of the show from the 1902 musical up until the most recent stuff, probably The Wiz at that point.

“In finding James Doyle, someone sent me a link to David Maxine (owner and co-founder of Hungry Tiger Press-- PH) about some of the music he was publishing and recording from the 1902 Oz musical, and he eventually put me onto James who had a greater collection of such songs. While corresponding with James, he mentioned he had a few pieces of his own he had written for an eventual Oz musical. That was sort of the spark. I thought it would be a far greater coup to present an entirely original Wizard of Oz musical than just re-hashing old songs into a new script.

“So, we set to work. I wrote the book and about half of the lyrics, uncredited at the time, while we discussed where songs should go, and he wrote the music."