August 1, 2009|
But between the book and the 1939 film falls the shadow. There's an entire universe of Oz-ness in those 40 years that has completely gone down the memory hole, almost without a trace.
On the heels of the book's instant success, a Broadway musical was planned. It opened first at the Grand Opera House in Chicago on June 16, 1902, then went on to Broadway with a January 21, 1903 premiere. It ran for almost a year and continued for many more years as a touring production, endlessly criss-crossing the country. Community theatres continued to stage the play regularly right up until the advent of the 1939 film, which was also a musical and which used a few elements from the 1902 version.
According to the book Oz Before the Rainbow by Mark Evan Swartz, the touring version of this production came to Louisville, Kentucky for a short engagement of just three days: February 15, 16, and 17, 1904. Because of the popularity of the voluminous Oz series of books and the musical, these shows were surely packed in attendance to the rafters.
What Kentuckians saw that night would be almost unrecognizable to anyone from our generation, or our parents' generation:
Trying to understand the songs in the show today may be difficult for those with an aversion to antique music. Only a handful of crispy old recordings survive, almost all of which have been collected on a great two-CD set from Hungry Tiger. These recordings range from Edison wax cylinders, 78rpm records, piano rolls, and even mechanical music boxes.
Most of the musical numbers have little or nothing to do with the plot, and the libretto kept changing over the years. It's not uncommon for scenes and songs to disappear or be tweaked early in a show's run, but this reinvention continued over the many years the show was being staged. The disconnected nature of the songs made it easy to replace them with new ones, apparently in an effort to keep the show fresh for the people who were coming back to see it over and over and over again. The show's biggest hits have all but been forgotten:
I must have been a silly sort of josh
The modern pop-culture obsession with The Wizard of Oz that we all seem to share will hopefully be extended to re-include this bizarre musical, which for 40 years was the one true original real thing, before that Dorothy-come-lately Judy Garland's revisionist version. And if that isn't enough to keep you occupied with Oz-study for the rest of your life, there are still other Oz-related stage shows of the past, such as The Woggle Bug and The Tik-Tok Man of Oz!
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Jeffrey Scott Holland is the Artistic Director for Catclaw Theatre Company, author of Weird Kentucky on Sterling Press, and painter whose works have been exhibited worldwide. Visit him on the web at jshla.com