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Further Stage Adventures in Oz, Part Thirty-four: To the Great White North

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In 2000, the centennial year of the first publication of L. Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, saw very little in the way of commemoration of that event. In a culture packed with references to the 1939 MGM movie based on the book, the book itself was sadly ignored except by its core of fans, by literary historians, and by publishers who printed anniversary editions of the book.

During that year, however, the book did receive one very significant tribute which took place in, of all places, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

In 2002, your humble History of Oz Examiner was perusing the Oz-related website Hungry Tiger Press when I saw a notice about two compact discs. One was a recording of new arrangements of music from the 1902 Baum – Tietjens extravaganza (and selections from other Baum stage shows including The Maid of Arran). The other one, which quickly caught my full attention, was entitled The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, A New Musical.

Now, as much as I love the MGM treatment, I had wondered for many years when someone would do a more faithful dramatization of the book, and here at last I had found it. I ordered both CDs pretty much then and there, and upon receiving them in the mail I tore the plastic off of the soundtrack of the new musical. It was rather late in the evening; in fact, it was bedtime, but I was too intrigued to sleep. I popped it in my CD player, put on my headphones, and ended up listening to the whole thing in one sitting!

The new adaptation soared past the MGM version in my estimation, from the opening strains of “Just a Touch of Humbug” to the final sweet notes of “This Land of Oz.” The songwriter, a Texan named James P. Doyle, had captured not only the essence of Baum’s fairyland, but indeed Baum’s America. All the songs were written in musical styles which were prevalent in Baum’s day, from Ragtime to Tin Pan Alley to military marches to Gospel.

The plot of the show, adapted by Joe Cascone, who also produced it, commenced with L. Frank Baum himself, joined by a company of players, introducing himself to the audience and going on to narrate the story. Indeed, he stepped into the story in the second act to appear as his own title character.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz restored many scenes which, for one reason or another, had been left out of the MGM version, including many of the perils Dorothy and her friends encountered on their way to the Emerald City and, after the Wizard’s departure in his balloon, on their way to visit Glinda in the South.

Yes, Glinda’s proper domain was once again the Quadling Country, while the Good Witch of the North became herself again, and given the name Locasta, which was the name Baum had used for the character in the 1902 musical (even though it never appeared in the books).