"We're off to Stage the Wizard"
by Kurt Raymond
APRIL, 2011 UPDATE: HISTORY
Mounting a stage production of 1939's "The Wizard of Oz" film on stage is considered an amazing feat........but anyone can do it if you have the brains, heart and (especially) the nerve to do it. It is not only one of the most expensive shows to produce, it's also one of the most difficult, whether you are a large regional theatre or a small community venue. However, as you read on, you will find that anything can be accomplished if you do your homework. Every year, many theatre companies in the U.S. (and abroad) produce a little story about a girl from Kansas, a Tin Man, Scarecrow, Lion, a cyclone and an utterly hateful Wicked Witch to the tune of box office praises everywhere. The 1939 MGM film based on that book is now a part of Americana and has seeped into the public consciousness like no film has ever done before or since. It's a timeless film, based on the children's book by the incomparable L. Frank Baum. Since 1998, Beyond the Rainbow has received considerable e-mails asking the most efficient ways to stage a production of MGM's "The Wizard of Oz". Well, in answer to those questions, what you are about to read is a brief history and list of comparisons between the two available stage versions (the MUNY and the Royal Shakespeare Company -RSC) to help even the smallest community theatre with their production of "The Wizard of Oz". I hope that these suggestions and comparisons help you decide which version of "Oz" is best for you. To all those preparing to stage/produce/direct/star in "The Wizard of Oz", this article is most affectionately dedicated.
NOTE: With the mega-popularity of "Wicked, The Musical" inadvertently pushing the Wicked Witch/Elphaba character to the public/fan forefront more than any other Oz character the past decade, much of this essay will lean toward the Wicked Witch/Miss Gultch character as a reference point for many "Oz" stage anecdotes, both past and present.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR OF THIS PAGE:
Kurt Raymond as the Wicked Witch Of The West in "The Wizard Of Oz"
I have had the opportunity of appearing in or being involved with more than thirty stage productions of "The Wizard of Oz" since 1987, be it acting in large productions, technically advising smaller regional or community theatre's (union and non-union), or conjuring up poster art, I've seen it all. Those credits include versions at the Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles' Greek Theatre in national "Oz Sing-A-Long" tours, Book-On-Tape cast albums/stage adaptations, and even theme park stagings of the 1939 film and it's various characters. I currently appear in the Warner Brothers "Wizard of Oz" DVD/Blu-Ray of the 1939 film, on disc two in the documentary "Because Of The Wonderful Things He Does, The Legacy Of Oz" for my stage contributions to both 1939's "Oz" and actress Margaret Hamilton's legacy.
I have been very lucky to be one of the very few performers/actors that has done both versions of the "Oz" musical (in completely different venues) for over 20 years, and I have loved every minute of it. Nearly every suggestion included in this article are tried-and-true examples of effects I have experienced first hand in my "Oz" stage adventures. In addition to this, I have attempted to include as much rare background on the two very different stage versions of "Oz" as possible, giving the reader an idea of how (and why) certain scenes were staged on their initial run, anecdotes and history on the many versions of "Oz" staged over the last few decades, and other tidbits pulled from my archives. In 2000, prior to creating this page, Oz fans had asked me "Why don't you put your knowledge online?". And so, in 2001, I decided to put my experiences, history and anecdotes online for the first time, for the future thespians/producers/directors who have legitimate questions of "HOW am I gonna accomplish this show?" And, to my surprise, I have found this page has assisted even the smallest community theatre in presenting "Wizard" for the stage. Now, in 2011, this update was a long time coming, and hundreds of wonderful "Wizard of Oz" shows have come and gone, but some were so ground-breaking from concept to fruition that they must be mentioned as passing on into "The Wizard of Oz" stage history.
SO, WHY PRODUCE "THE WIZARD OF OZ"?
It is worth mentioning that "The Wizard of Oz" is staged an average of 30 times a year worldwide by various theatre groups (unless a national tour is making the rounds), making it one of the most popular Tams Witmark rentals of all time. "Oz" is also a favorite for high school drama departments; with students enjoying every minute playing the roles they loved so much as young children. Fast forward to present (at this writing, 2011). Producers tell me "The Wizard of Oz" is both a blessing (and a curse) to cast. It has been found that the number of actors that turn out to audition for "Oz" always exceeds the producer's expectations. Back in 2001 I happened to accompany a director friend to his "Oz" auditions and over 220 people showed up! Nowadays, for both Non-Equity and Non-Union shows, the numbers have doubled....unbelievable!
Can we say 'Oz' is 'Pop-----uuuu-oooh---lar'?
THE WIZARD OF OZ, 1902 - THE FIRST STAGE ADAPTATION OF THE BAUM STORY:
The 1902 Broadway stage version of "The Wizard of Oz", starring Fred Stone and Dave Montgomery, was created as a result of the popularity of Baum's fairy tale, published in 1900. It is interesting to note that the first "Broadway spectacular" differed greatly from the original story on which it was based, including the complete omission of both the Wicked Witch of the West and Toto characters ('Toto' was replaced and suddenly became a cow named Imogene!), and the addition of several non-Baum characters! Even so, this version enjoyed a long run on Broadway, and some of its ideas were destined for inclusion in the 1939 MGM film classic, such as the concept of Glinda herself rescuing the travelers from the poppy field by creating a snowstorm.
The 1910 silent Selig film of "Wizard" was 'loosely' based on that 1902 production (but closer to the original book than the latter was), and marked the first time a "Wizard of Oz" stage show was adapted to film for a (then) contemporary audience. It is mentioned here because the entire look and feel of the film is shot as if it's a stage production and is visually based on the original Baum book. The company reinserted the character of the Wicked Witch of the West (here with the name 'Momba') as the main villain (an idea that would also be done for the 1939 film version). The film is available as a bonus feature on the 2009 70th Anniversary DVD/Blu-Ray of "The Wizard of Oz".
1910 Selig Film "Wonderful Wizard of Oz - The Wicked Witch is murdered by Dorothy in her castle
(Screengrabs from the author's DVD)
TWO (VERY DIFFERENT) VERSIONS OF MGM' S THE WIZARD OF OZ TO CHOOSE FROM:
Currently, there are only two stage versions of 1939's "The Wizard of Oz" film that are available for rental from Tams-Witmark (If you would like to stage a non-musical version of "Oz", or a version with your own songs, feel free to write it yourself, the original L. Frank Baum 'Wonderful Wizard of Oz' story is in public domain. YAY! However, you'll need to fork out additional royalties to Tams if you use any songs and dialog from the MGM film, as they are the exclusive rights holders to the staging of the film version. These two versions are the St. Louis Municipal Opera (MUNY) version, written in the early 1940's, and the 1987 Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) version. The night and day comparisons between these two very different adaptations are the focus of this essay. Though the MUNY version is similar to the Baum book in plot, its similarities to the 1939 film are there but minimal, utilizing almost none of the MGM film dialog while retaining a handful of the famous Harburg/Arlen songs. The RSC version is now the most widely used version across the country, with its strong connection with the MGM film script. Where the 1939 film uses the style of a staged musical production number, as in the "Munchkinland" and "Emerald City" sequences both the MUNY and RSC adaptations follow suit. When film and stage techniques are not compatible, each version finds a different solution.
The RSC "Oz" royalties do not come cheaply, however, and some smaller community theatre's have no choice but to use the former. In addition, if you only have the budget for the MUNY version, do not attempt to largely mix that version with the MGM film script, as it does not mix well (at all, so don't try it, you'll be sorry and so will your critics' reviews) with the MGM film dialog, and creates severe holes in the continuity.
Tams Witmark allows cuts for as many scenes as you like in either version for time considerations, but do not "add" too much or you could be subject to additional royalty fees.
THE MUNY, THE RSC, AND 1939's THE WIZARD OF OZ - A BRIEF HISTORY OF BOTH STAGE SCRIPTINGS OF THE FILM:
THE ST. LOUIS MUNICIPAL OPERA (MUNY):
The 1939 film songs motivated Frank Gabrielson, the original MUNY "Wizard" adapter to pen his adaptation. The St. Louis company provided the means and dictated the method of production. The results are a kind of traditional musical theatre/pantomime piece that bears little resemblance to either Baum or MGM. In addition to the 1939 film songs, there is an additional song for Dorothy in Emerald City called "Evening Star". Comic stage business and dance were (for it's time) effectively used where cinematic techniques were simply impossible for live theatre (no pyrotechnics, trapdoors and even flying wasn't used in this show until after Flying By Foy was created in 1957, dominating the flying stagecraft industry for decades). Written in the mid-1940s, the MUNY script uses humor that is extremely dated and not quite politically correct in today's society. A few pages in, a reader will be quite shocked there is no 'Kansas character framework' with the farmhands Hunk, Hickory and Zeke, Miss Gultch, or Professor Marvel - they simply don't exist, only a farmhand named 'Joe' resides on the farm, besides Em, Henry and Dot. It is precisely these limitations that director's shy way from using this version if they can help it.
Actress Margaret Hamilton (MGM's original Wicked Witch) starred in at least two known stagings at the MUNY, one in the 1950's, and including a heavily-publicized one that also starred the 70's comedy team 'The Hudson Brothers'. However, according to Miss Hamilton in a later interview, the Hudson Brothers version had added 'smidgens of bathroom humor not appropriate for a children's story'. Scenes from this particular show and it's star's permeated the Teen Magazines (Tiger Beat, 16 Magazine, Teen Beat) of the day, adding to the Hudson's 'teen idols' status for a short time.
Tiger Beat Magazine 1975 mini-pinup poster of the Hudson Brother's Oz" characterizations
Other famous MUNY "Wicked Witches" have included Mary Wickes (of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters fame) and zany comedienne Phyllis Diller. "Oz" is re-mounted at the MUNY every six or seven years, and has even abandoned their own dated version for the RSC's recently. In the 70's and 80's, some directors made up for the lack of "MGM-ness" in the MUNY script by wisely staying as close to the film costumes and sets as possible for familiarity.
Program cover for the 1974 "The Wizard of Oz", by the Lyric Theatre Of Orange County (The MUNY script)
As a little tyke, I saw my first production of the MUNY "Wizard" script in 1974 at the Lyric Opera of Orange County, (at an Amphitheater near the now famous Laguna Playhouse) in Laguna Beach, CA. That season, it played in repertory with the musical "La Traviata" and starred a (very non-Judy Garland-looking) pretty, platinum blonde named Dana Swenson as Dorothy, and stage actress Cass Daley as The Wicked Witch. I was expecting the 1939 film live on stage, as it had just been annually shown on CBS and it was still fresh in my memory. However, to my (and my parents) surprise, the production team tried to merge the VERY different MUNY and MGM film scripts together, turning it into a drawn out mish-mash that resembled little of the film and making the play about 3 hours long. Though it DID include the Kansas framework/Miss Gultch scenes, that was as close to the film as it got. Major deviations from the film that this show did that I vividly remember included the Wizard appearing as a 3-headed monster about 10 feet tall (on stilts), and the Wicked Witch not 'melting away' - She shrunk into a puppet/marionette after being dumped in her own cauldron of magic water by the Lion and Tin Man. Lastly, I was looking forward to seeing the Wizard's balloon scene, but sadly, the Wizard zipped home in a Rocket Ship (?). Yep.......seriously.
You'll find out the various staging issues/history/problems of these ill-conceived MUNY scenes and many others further into this essay.
THE ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY (RSC), 1987 AND THE BEGINNING OF AN ERA:
The Wizard of Oz, Royal Salespeople Company, 1988
(Photo collage adapted from 1989 gatefold LP)
Program cover for the RSC's "The Wizard of Oz"
(From the collection of the author)
The 1980's ushered in a new era for musical theatre regarding technical 'wizardry'. Larger venues were built and there was money available for then unheard of 'special effects' to be safely done on stage such as pyrotechnics and flying/acrobatics only seen in the Circus. Written by producer John Kane in 1986, the 1987 RSC adaptation as directed by Ian Judge, stays as close to the MGM film dialog as possible. A new orchestration was created to closely approximate the sound of the original 1939 film orchestra, utilizing for the first time ever, even the tiniest snippets of MGM's background and incidental music. The scoring by the late Larry Wilcox, is beautifully done, and requires a large chorus. With the amazing special effects, the RSC version is a more technically complex production and uses as much of the ambience of the 1939 film as possible to create in a modern theatre setting. This version was first staged for the (then brand new) Barbican Theatre's 1987-88 Holiday Repertory Season in Britain's Stratford-Upon-Avon, and the technically superior Barbican offered all the modern technical wizardry necessary (see details below) to achieve MGM's cinematic effects in a live theatre atmosphere. The costume designs however, owed more to the 1975 Broadway hit "The Wiz", and W.W. Denslow's original art for his 1900 "Oz" illustrations than MGM, an idea that the British patrons themselves enjoyed, American audiences have proven fickle over, and local U.S. newspaper reviewers more often than not find blasphemous to the film's memory. It is interesting to note that although the RSC script adaptation is obviously grounded with MGM, their initial 1987 casting and costume choices were somewhat odd and strayed as far away as possible from the beloved and iconic MGM film characters we know today.
NOTE: Both Bille Brown and Imelda Staunton received nominations for the prestigious "Olivier' Award for their roles in "Oz", and the cast even made an appearance on the show in costume performing the "Poppies" number from "Oz". Brown's nomination was for Outstanding Performance of the Year by an Actor in a Musical and Staunton for Outstanding Performance of the Year by an Actress in a Musical. Designer Mark Thompson was also nominated for Designer Of The Year. The show itself was nominated for Best Musical Of The Year. A snippet of the Olivier awards featuring the Oz casts' "Poppies" number can be seen on various video-sharing websites.
1987 RSC "Oz" Program Centerfold
(From the collection of the author)
RSC'S 1987 UNUSUAL CASTING, "WE'RE NOT IN MGM ANYMORE, TOTO!":
Thirty-five year old Australian actor Bille Brown ("Chronicles Of Narnia, Voyage Of The Dawn Treader") was cast in the dual role of Miss Gultch/Wicked Witch. The 6' 1", stocky Brown went for the comedic jugular, playing the Witch role in full 'glam' drag queen mode (not surprising for a UK performance). The Witch's appearance and costume featured a curly, 'big-haired' white-blonde wig with one side pinned back, an elaborate black and purple ball gown with a dress-length bow in the back, and topped off with a matching eye patch (not worn in promotional photos however), the patch was an ode to both Denslow and Baum's original literary "Witch" characterization.
Gillian Bevan watches Bille Brown's Wicked Witch melt away in RSC's "The Wizard of Oz"
(From the Gatefold LP)
Brown's hilarious turn both as the Witch and Miss Gultch reminds one now of a glammed-up 'RuPaul's Drag Race' contestant - But with a personality reeking of both the late flamboyant entertainer Charles Nelson Reilly and Bette Midler at their 1970's campiest. Contemporary British theatre-goers didn't bat an eye at this however, though some American reviewers in town for the show complained that as a 'funny drag queen', the character of the Wicked Witch lost some of the evil that a woman (or a man as Margaret Hamilton's scary characterization) could have given the part.
ADVICE: In the U.S., if you are male and want to audition for the Wicked Witch/Miss Gultch, I advise to stay away from the 'campy drag' and stick as close as possible to Miss Hamilton's 1939 characterization. You may get the part. Trust me. I know.
Bille Brown, Imelda Staunton, and Dilys Laye in rehearsal for RSC's "The Wizard of Oz". (From the original souvenir program)
Thirty-one year old British film and stage actress Imelda Staunton (now seen as the 'Dolores Umbridge' character in the Harry Potter films) was cast as Dorothy for the 1987-88 run, but it's actress Gillian Bevan (an uncanny sound-alike for a mature Judy Garland) who sings the role on the 1989 RSC cast album CD.
Imelda Staunton as Dorothy in RSC's The Wizard of Oz (From the souvenir program)
Glinda the Witch of the North/Aunt Em was initially played by fifty-three year old British TV actress Dilys Laye and was replaced the following year by actress Joyce Grant, looking every bit like W.W. Denslow's original art for the more mature and motherly "Good Witch of the North" character in the "Wonderful Wizard of Oz" book. but sounding quite 'Julia Child' in her line delivery.
Simon Green and Trevor Peacock played the Tin Man and Cowardly Lion respectively, looking similar to the 1975 "The Wiz" concepts: The Lion donned a jacket and pants, and the Tin Man's costume consisted of junk metal, very similar to Nipsey Russell in 'The Wiz'. In their portrayals, they also strayed away from the film characterizations, and the RSC (thankfully) made a conscious choice to have most of their "Oz" actors play the parts with American dialects.
The 1987 RSC version of "Oz" was an immediate hit with British audiences, playing to record crowds that season. It was decided to revive the show the following year with most of the original 1987 cast, prompting the release of the aforementioned 1989 Original Cast Album in both an elaborate photo-filled vinyl gatefold album and a CD package with illustrated booklet. The RSC version has since become a Holiday staple for various British Musical Theatre Troupes. Acclaimed British actor Brian Blessed ("Augustus" in the British mini-series "I, Claudius") appeared in a late 90's version of the RSC staging in England, and in 2011, Andrew Lloyd Webber launched his version (with 4 new songs).
Dilys Laye, Imelda Staunton, and the Munchkins in a review of the RSC's 1987's The Wizard of Oz"
(courtesy of the Baum Bugle)
THE RSC's 1987 GROUND BREAKING AND INNOVATIVE STAGING OF THE WIZARD OF OZ AT THE BARBICAN THEATRE:
At that time, only the MUNY version was available to stage an adaptation of "Wizard', and it was severely limited in both staging and special effects. The RSC's new adaptation at the (then) newly constructed Barbican Theatre, and the show's 'WOW' factor gave the theatre a chance to show off it's new revolving stage and hidden trapdoors. The twister/cyclone was something to see when the stage revolved, and Dorothy watched two men in a rowboat and the old lady in a rocking chair actually fly by, followed by Miss Gulch riding her bike onstage, then exiting the other side as the Wicked Witch flying on her broomstick. These startling effects had never been seen/done in a stage adaptation of "Wizard" ever until the RSC's version. There were however, some major changes to the imagery from the 1939 film. Along with some normal (for the time) british humor, Glinda had a telephone in her pink bubble, the Apple Trees were played by a trio of attractive ladies, and the Wicked Witch dropped leaflets with "Surrender Dorothy' written on them instead of the skywriting/smoking broomstick trick. The Wicked Witch also entered in a bubble very similar to Glinda's, but black. Also, for the first time since 1902, the poppies were played by chorus girls. And, going back to the original book, the Tin Man told the story of how he became a tin man (by way of the Wicked Witch's anger), and when the Witch appeared on top of his cottage later in the scene, their banter reflected that they 'had met before'.
Also Baum-book related was the fact that the four main characters wore green glasses upon their entrance into the Emerald City. The RSC also restored the lost "Jitterbug' sequence from the 1939 film, and restored it to it's proper place (The MUNY had it oddly placed at the Poppy field sequence). It also for the first time merged the characters of both Aunt Em and Glinda the Good Witch, later causing recurring issues with a quick costume change from 'mature Kansas farm woman' to 'young and beautiful sorceress' in a matter of three minutes from the 'Twister scene' to 'Munchkinland' for any future actress cast in the role. It was made especially trying when the Glinda character had to be harnessed on top of a costume change to 'fly' into scene.
NOTE: The original 1987 RSC costumes and sets were shipped to the U.S. briefly for the Starlight Musical Theatre Company (San Diego, CA) staging of "Oz" in the early 1990's. There has been recent talk that the original sets were destroyed, but many of the costumes (so I hear) remain safely in the UK.
RSC'S "OZ" COMES TO THE U.S. WITH GYMNAST CATHY RIGBY, 1988:
Long Beach Civic Light Opera "Oz" Program Cover
(From the collection of the Author)
The United States first saw the RSC adaptation in a splashy 1988 staging for the (now defunct) Long Beach Civic Light Opera. It starred former Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby as Dorothy (who incidentally, landed her very first musical role playing "Dorothy" for the MUNY's version of "Wizard" in 1981), Michael Tucci ('Sonny' in 1978's "Grease") as the Cowardly Lion, and Lara Teeter as the Scarecrow (Teeter went on to play the Scarecrow in both the 1997 Madison Square Garden AND MUNY productions of "Oz!")
Rigby and cast in a "The Wizard of Oz" collage, 1988
For the first time, the LBCLO production finally introduced American musical theatre companies to the (then) newly available RSC/MGM script of "Wizard", giving the MUNY staple some competition. It followed the look of the film and took the dialog from the RSC version almost verbatim, and staged many scenes even more innovatively than the RSC had the previous year. I was involved on the technical end of a fairly elaborate MUNY "Wizard" production myself in another part of town 40 miles away when Rigby's version premiered, but it didn't stop me and a group of friends from seeing it on a night off, and wishing the show I was involved in was more like Rigby's staging. Ours was quite good, but Rigby's clearly pummeled her competition.
STAR CASTING "THE WIZARD OF OZ"
The 1980's and 90's were a treasure trove of famous celebs appearing as the "Oz" characters onstage. Well known musical theatre companies were known to "star cast" some of the more "colorful" roles to get patrons into the seats, as proven by actress Connie Stevens playing Dorothy at a Los Angeles theatre in the late 60's, Bob Keeshan (TV's Captain Kangaroo") stepping into the Wizard role in the MUNY's 1997 production. Jenna Leigh Green (TV's "Sabrina" and more recently, Nessarose in "Wicked" ) stepped into the role of Dorothy at the Music Theatre of Southern California in 1997, Denise Moses (Energizer Battery Company's 1993 "Wicked Witch") donned her witch's garb once more for the Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera (CA) in 1996, and Cathy Rigby again at the La Mirada Civic Theatre (CA) for the Performing Arts, 1995. Also in 1995, the all-star "The Wizard of Oz In Concert", starring folk singer turned rock sensation Jewel as Dorothy, Jackson Browne, Roger Daltry and Nathan Lane as the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion, premiered on TNT Cable Network to benefit the Children's Defense Fund. This show was widely considered to be the launching pad of Jewel's singing career and marked the only time the RSC adaptation of "Oz" was televised in any form.
However, the early 90's saw New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse mount their version of "Wizard" patterned after the MGM film. It was directed by Robert Johanson and starred Kelly Rabke as Dorothy, Eddie Bracken as the Wizard, Judith McCauley as Glinda and Elizabeth Franz as the Wicked Witch. The production was a success, and soon after, New York City's Madison Square Garden launched their production based on the Paper Mill Playhouse version, with many of the same sets and costumes. McCauley became Glinda for MSG's production as well.
Elizabeth Franz as the Wicked Witch in Paper Mill Playhouses' The Wizard of Oz (Roseanne's MSG Witch costume was based on this concept)
(Photo from the Souvenir Program, collection of the author)
MADISON SQUARE GARDEN'S THE WIZARD OF OZ (and subsequent tour), 1997
Cover of the 1997 MSG "Wizard Of Oz" Program
(Collection of the author)
The most widely publicized piece of "Oz" star casting to date was in 1997, when MSG cast TV actress Roseanne as the Wicked Witch of the West in their production of "Oz", a choice that, at the time, was not well received by NY theatre critics ("tacky", "loud", "mechanical", "stiff and humorless" were a few comments), but I personally thought she wasn't given a chance by the critics and thought she was a riot. The Theatre at Madison Square Garden went even further in their star casting in 1998 when it was announced that veteran actor (and co-star of Judy Garland in the 30's and 40's) Mickey Rooney would portray the Wizard and "Catwoman" Eartha Kitt the Wicked Witch when launching their 1997 "Oz" show for a national tour.
Scenes with Roseanne as the Wicked Witch in MSG's The Wizard of Oz, 1997
(All photos from the collection of the author)
Madison Square Garden cut a nearly a half-hour of dialog from the RSC script in order to give the show a faster pace, hence keeping younger audiences in their seats with no intermission. The 1998 Oz tour began in March in Rosemont, IL, and starred Mickey Rooney as the Wizard, Kitt, Lara Teeter (Scarecrow), Ken Page (The Cowardly Lion), Dirk Lumbard (Tin Man) and seventeen year old Jessica Grove (Dorothy). It returned to The Theater at Madison Square Garden in mid-1998.
Eartha Kitt as The Wicked Witch - Stepping into Roseanne's original, downsized costume
This revised version of MSG's original production was extremely successful on tour, and even spawned a tie-in TV special when it touched down at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles: 'Rainbows, Witches and Ruby Red Slippers", was an hour-long promotional TV spot that featured Ozzy celebs and 'Oz On Tour' cast members looking back on the 1939 film and it's relevance and charm today (of which I have an end credit, as I assisted the TV producer to secure various Oz celebs as guests for Ozzy interviews not directly related to the MSG stage show). After Kitt left the show, the tour then cast Liliane Montevecchi as the Wicked Witch but she was replaced following her last performance in MI by "Laugh-In' star JoAnne Worley as the crone (with her wisecracking humor) for the last few months of the run. However, this tour also added a few more things, like the Wicked Witch herself singing "The Jitterbug'. Many theatre companies have used these sets and costumes in the last decade.
RSC'S OZ BACK ABROAD
Abroad, Australia's 2001 "Wizard" tour had aussie pint-sized actress Nikki Webster in the role of Dorothy and actress Pamela Rabe as Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch. This version followed the MGM film very closely in look and style (right down to the Winkie costumes).
Nikki Webster looks on in horror as Pamela Rabe melts in front of her Winkie Guards in the 2001 Aussie Tour of 'The Wizard of Oz'
(Scene from the show's now defunct website)
In the UK in 2008, Judy Garland's own daughter, Lorna Luft, donned the green facepaint to transform into everyone's famous Wicked Witch.
Lorna Luft as The Wicked Witch
Lorna Luft and Kurt Raymond (As The Witch) at the Hollywood Bowl 'Wizard of Oz Sing-A-Long' show in 2003
THE WONDERFUL MUSIC OF RSC'S "THE WIZARD OF OZ"
The Royal Shakespeare Company 1989 London Cast Album of "The Wizard of Oz" with Larry Wilcox's original orchestrations and chorus was released in 1989, and is still available on CD at Amazon.com (in several different versions too, so be sure to pick up the original 'white cover' edition, as that version includes the 'Twister' and "Over the Rainbow"/Winkie March/WitchMelt/Ding Dong reprise". The other CD versions are budget-oriented and thereby shortened versions without the elaborate booklet/liner notes or the above mentioned numbers. The 1998 "Wizard of Oz On Tour" Original Cast album and the 1995 "Wizard of Oz In Concert" starring Jewel both feature this same orchestration and are widely available, but "Concert" happily features the RSC score in it's entirety, including much dialog. Again, check Amazon.com or your local music store for availability. The 2001 Nikki Webster production is also available on CD, as will be the 2011 Andrew Lloyd Webber "Wizard" Cast Album CD, including the new songs written for the show.
1994 MUSICALS COLLECTION OF THE RSC WIZARD OF OZ" , CD/BEHIND THE SCENES BOOKLET SET:
In 1994, Orbis published a CD/Book package of the RSC "Wizard of Oz" show as 'Number 9' of it's Musicals Collection CD/Book set of 70 Broadway hits. The CD featured most of the RSC score, and the larger format magazine-style booklet that accompanied it was jam-packed with rare show photos and costume concepts of the 1987 RSC production not shown in the retail CD booklet. The Musicals Collection was an exciting new CD series that highlighted and preserved the best-loved musicals of all time in a magazine format . The articles inside included a look behind the scenes of the RSC show, and the cast/production team involved.
Orbis' 'The Musicals Collection' CD/Book package of the "Wizard of Oz" RSC Score
(From the collection of the author)
The Wizard of Oz 1998 Cast Album CD and the 1995 Wizard of Oz In Concert CD have basically the same RSC-based orchestra/score (however, tho true to the RSC in sound, the 1998 version shreds and shortens much incidental music and dialog due to time constraints, "The Twister" track is a prime example).
The 1995 "The Wizard of Oz In Concert" focuses more on the music/songs first, performance second. Additionally, the "Oz In Concert" CD has much more (a lot more, but not ALL as previously written) of the RSC music score, dialog and incidental background music (especially in the Wicked Witch's scenes to give Debra Winger more to do since she didn't sing in the show), than the original 1989 RSC Cast Album/CD of the London show it is based on, making it an 'extended' version of sorts of the 1989 RSC show CD.
NOTE: There is no commercial recording available of the entire RSC incidental background and musical score. However, "Oz In Concert" is about as close as you can get. The show itself, on it's original 1995 broadcast (not the CD) featured additional music that appeared in the 1939 film but did NOT appear in the original 1987 RSC stage production, ("Professor Marvel", a different, more ominous "March of the Winkies", among other scenes). Additionally, there is music/dialog heard on the "Oz In Concert" CD Album that was NOT shown on the TV broadcast (Debra Wingers' almost-blooper, saying "Who killed the 'Wid' Witch of the East?" instead of 'Wicked' in Munchkinland among others.
1989 RSC "Wizard of Oz" CD cover (Available at Amazon.com)
Background Vocals of "The Wizard of Oz"songs CD (Amazon)
1994 RSC "Wizard of Oz" Budget priced CD (Amazon)
1996 "Wizard of Oz On Ice" CD Cover
1995 "The Wizard of Oz In Concert" CD cover (Amazon)
1998's MSG "Wizard of Oz" CD cover (Amazon)
2001 Nikki Webster "Wizard of Oz" Aussie Tour CD Cover (Amazon)
"OZ" PRODUCTIONS AND THEIR AVAILABILITY ON VHS/DVD/BLU-RAY:
1995's "The Wizard of Oz In Concert" was available commercially for some time on the now extinct VHS videotape format (Amazon.com may still list it), but it has not been made available on Blu-Ray/DVD. "The Wizard of Oz" 1997-98 Cast show has never been released commercially in any visual format. However, scenes do pop up from time to time on YouTube.
1995 VHS "The Wizard Of Oz In Concert Videocassette
On occasion, foreign "Oz" stage productions overseas have been available on CD, DVD and even VHS (you can check Ebay or the numerous Amazon.com overseas sites for availability) but chances are these shows have not been duplicated in the U.S. standard NTSC region and thus, are un-viewable. Again however, sometimes people post scenes from their past shows on YouTube.
1989 - PRESENT "WIZARD OF OZ" NATIONAL TOURS:
While we are on the subject of staging, lets quickly discuss a few of the costume ideas and staging concepts of several 80's/90's high profile "Wizard of Oz" National Tours utilizing the RSC script that didn't quite work. In 1989, producer Michel Grilhikes gave us the financially unsuccessful and creatively disastrous 50th Anniversary adaptation of the "Wizard of Oz LIVE!"
Scene from the "Wizard of Oz LIVE!" in 1989
(Image from the souvenir program)
1989's "The Wizard of Oz, LIVE!" was destined to flop, period. Though it was an ambitious production for the time, it was ill-conceived from the get-go with no thought of the Oz fans who would be paying to see it. Set up as an "arena style" or 'in the round' Barnum and Bailey Circus-type national tour show, it appeared with a burst of publicity right at the height of the 1939 film's 50th Anniversary. In this version, there were several instances where the show bared no resemblance whatsoever to the beloved movie it was based on - Glinda now had miraculously sprouted gigantic butterfly wings, the Wicked Witch sported a blood-red plumed pilgrim hat with a costume made of red feathers to match (?), the Munchkins were two feet taller than Dorothy and all of the music and dialog was prerecorded, of which the actors could be seen flubbing lines to! Scene changes were clumsily (and slowly) shown in full view of the audience, and the Oz characters had no choice but to wait as the scenery took what seemed like days to change. Nationwide, the theatre critics beat this show up and down the streets, finally killing it, and for good reason. One thing I remember when it came to my arena was that upon arrival, I found the seating was only a quarter full - and on a weekend! With advance bookings being canceled right and left near the end of it's aborted run, it quietly closed with no fanfare in 1990.
The souvenir program cover for the 1994 Musicals America "Wizard of Oz" tour
(From the author's collection)
In 1994, Musicals America of Rhode Island did their homework more than Grilhikes and served up a moderately successful national tour of MGM's "Wizard", with an entire cast of unknowns. Directed by Richard Ericson, and marketing it with the herald: "The Royal Shakespeare Company Adaptation", it did get some positive attention however for it's originality. The production team came up with an interesting cost-cutting way to deal with having a large cast on tour - Puppets! The Lullabye League and Lollypop Guild and other select 'members of the ensemble' were indeed life-sized puppets engineered by a single puppeteer. The production also included the RSC "Jitterbug" number and restored most of the deleted Scarecrow's dance that was a last minute cut from the 1939 film. Pyrotechnics were provided by the Le Maitre Company, who were known at the time for pyro effects for major acts in Vegas. Flying By Foy was responsible for giving the actors flight. Dorothy's house *about the size of a standard coffee table) actually flew over the heads of the audience as Miss Gulch transformed into the Wicked Witch during the twister in full view of the audience, via a large scrim and wires. Unfortunately, even this show's creativity was attacked, as many local critics blasted this staging too, saying; "The Wizard's head looks like an oversized Elmer Fudd puppet, Dorothy is too old and Munchkinland is a simple painted backdrop!" Other were more biting, calling it a "bus and truck mish-mash of a tour".
1994 "Wizard of Oz" Tour Collage - Selected scenes and Production Art from Musicals America's "Oz" Tour
(Images from the souvenir program)
However, the show weathered the storm, audiences everywhere enjoyed it despite the critics, and the tour ran longer than anyone expected. More recent examples of producers "going against the MGM grain" but succeeding was producer Kenneth Feld's 1996-99 multi-million dollar (and successful) extravaganza world wide tour of "The Wizard of Oz On Ice" and more recently, the 2008 (and as of 2011 still running) NETworks National Tour of "Wizard".
"Wizard of Oz" On Ice Scene Collages from the CBS TV Show
(All images created by the author from his VHS cassette of the TV show)
Those wonderfully campy 'On Ice' shows - Patrons gawk at 'em, but some turn out much better than expected, and this show was one of them. Though the prerecorded music, songs and script was pure MGM (thanks to a completely new and updated re-scoring and re-recording of the film music with a powerful orchestra), many of the staging concepts strayed far from the film. Although some flying was used for the Wicked Witch, Glinda simply "skated" her initial arrivals and exits onstage. In an innovative move, Miss Gulch rode her bicycle (on skates no less!) into a filthy outhouse for her "transformation" into the Wicked Witch on her broomstick during the twister. Some scenes were drawn out a bit too long to obviously showcase the skating potential, especially in the Emerald City and Poppy Field scenes, but overall, it was a magical show that had heart, brains and nerve to 'do familiar but different' in an arena setting. The Oz characters somewhat better resembled their movie counterparts, and the music orchestrations didn't deviate all that much from what had come before, but the difference from the 1989 Oz 'LIVE' tour were the performances and personalities of the skating cast that made the difference. However, there was another twist for "Oz on Ice" audiences when singer Bobby McFerrin's pre-recorded voices (common for Ice shows) included not only the male Oz characters, but all the female characters (except Dorothy, who was voiced by Laurena Wilkerson.) as well. He was excellent, and it didn't detract from the show.
Olympic skater Oksana Baiul starred as Dorothy and Victor Petrenko as the Scarecrow in the televised (and shortened) version on US network TV, and marked the second time a 'stage adaptation' of an "Oz" show was televised. A VHS videotape of the "Oz On Ice" TV adaptation was quickly produced for retail sale and sold via mail-order (and later) online. Copies can be found on Ebay from time to time.
WICKED, THE MUSICAL 2003
Original "WICKED" Pre-Broadway Try-Out Brochure Cover, 2003
"WICKED" THE MUSICAL, IS SHE A GOOD WITCH OR A BAD WITCH, YOU BE THE JUDGE:The phenomenally successful stage version of Gregory MacGuire's book "WICKED", with it's wonderfully written musical 'backstory' of how the characters of Glinda The Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West came to be, proved mixed with the critics upon the initial staging on 2003. It initially starred Idina Menzel ("Enchanted") as Elphaba and Kristen Chenoweth as Glinda. However, upon arriving newly fine-tuned on Broadway, it proceeded to smash the box office records around the world, with weekly-gross records in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, and London. Both the UK production and the North American tour have been seen by over two million theatre-goers. The show was nominated for ten 2004 Tony Awards, winning three of them, including for Best Actress (Menzel). There have been stagings in Germany, Australia and Tokyo as well, and in 2011, a dutch version will open. "Oz" and it's characters had, up until this show, hadn't seen quite the exposure onstage worldwide until this show premiered. As of September 23, 2010, the show was the seventeenth longest-running Broadway show in history.
MISS GULCH, THE WICKED WITCH, AND ELPHABA?
Today, with 'WICKED" so ingrained in the public consciousness, it is difficult for many of the younger generation to think of 'The Wicked Witch Of The West', as anybody else but misunderstood "Elphie'. This has inadvertently confused some young people into believing that "Elphaba" and "Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch" are one and the same character, and are misinformed that Elphaba came before "Wizard", an attitude that sometimes pours into production look/designs for contemporary stagings of 1939's "The Wizard of Oz". In the last 3 years or so, I have seen productions of "Wizard" utilize the 'look' and attitude of "Wicked"s Elphaba for the Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch character in "Oz", and it can go either way with audiences and critics, depending on far you take the visuals.
Today, with "Wicked's popularity, you may find the younger, more attractive (but still thoroughly evil) 'Elphaba' characterization replacing the 'ugly' characterization of the Wicked Witch of the West in any number of recent "Wizard of Oz' comic books and children's books.
Images from "The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz", A Campfire Graphic Novel, 2010
(Photos from the author's personal collection)
Images From "Oz F5", A Graphic Novel, Alias Comics, 2005
(Photos from the author's copy of the comic)
Innovative? Yes............The "Wicked-ization" of "The Wizard of Oz" prone to hater critics?
Producers and directors who read this page, tread lightly, as you run a critical risk in combining the 'look' of "WICKED" with "Oz", and should expect to stir a small to large cauldron of confusion. I have played the Margaret Hamilton version of the Wicked Witch in "Oz" productions in the last few years where I was surprised to be referred to as "Elphaba Gulch" at curtain call. And, given the cultural phenomenon that "WICKED" has become, I totally accept that. Expanding on that, meeting the theatre patrons after a show outside, since 2005, I am almost never referred to as "Oooooh, there's the Wicked Witch", it's always "Oooooh, there's Elphie!", and though it took some getting used to, I'm cool with it. At least now there's a name to go with the green!
NOTABLE STAGINGS OF THE WIZARD OF OZ THIS MILLENNIUM:
COMMUNITY THEATRE OF GREENSBORO, NC- 16 YEARS OF ANNUAL STAGINGS OF THE WIZARD OF OZ AND COUNTING!
Proof of the "Wizard''s staying power not only for the general public and Oz memorabilia collector's, but for local theatre-goers, shows in a big way with the Community Theatre Of Greensboro, NC's mounting of RSC's "The Wizard of Oz" annually.
Mitchel Sommers is the Executive Director for the CTG. He has directed "The Wizard Of Oz" for the company annually for the last 16 years. After years of watching the 1939 film on TV as a child, little did he know, he'd grow up to be a director of the show, 16 years and counting! In 1991, when the CTG included the RSC version of "The Wizard of Oz" for it's mainstage season, the theatre had been looking for a signature show for their company, then 42 years old. After that year's "Wizard' proved a huge success, it was repeated the following year, and again, and again...............Sommer's response to people who ask 'Shouldn't you do something ELSE this year beside's "Oz"?" His response is: "When they stop coming, we'll stop doing it!"
Annually, over 250 people audition for CTG's "Oz". The cast is comprised of seasoned theatre veterans and amateurs making their theatrical debuts. Auditioned for the show have run the gamut from young, old, white, black, Latino, to the rich, poor, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, politicians and homemakers. The company prides itself on it's non-traditional casting, and sometimes even having alternating cast members playing the same Oz character in different performances. The already impressive "Oz" sets are re-dressed, re-painted and re-used and give somewhat of a different feel each time the show is mounted. Every season's "Oz" cast is different, and every year, their new energy makes CTG's show different for anyone who has seen it before. In addition to directing, Sommer's also frequently appears in the show, playing both 'Professor Marvel/Wizard of Oz'.
Sommers, in a recent interview with Tams-Witmark said: "What is great about 'Wizard' is that it is so universal. It is appealing to all because it is not related to a religious holiday or created for only a certain sect of our community. We all grew up on this story and the RSC version is like watching the movie live on stage! We also love it here at CTG (Community Theatre of Greensboro) because we wrap up our big show right before Thanksgiving and actually enjoy the holidays while all other presenters are running around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to grab the community's attention while their constituency is busy shopping, making travel plans for the holidays and in a whirlwind! More than the production itself, it is what The Wizard of Oz has done for our entire organization and our community that I want to share with you".
Scenes from CTG's annual "The Wizard of Oz" stagings
(Images Courtesy of CTG and Mike Micciche)
RSC's "The Wizard of Oz" has become the cornerstone of CTG's organization and the major force behind their thriving youth programs, camps, classes and youth productions. Now, THAT is a testament to the staying power of "The Wizard Of Oz". In addition, scenes from CTG's past season rehearsal videos of "Wizard of Oz" can be seen on YouTube. If you would like to audition for CTG's annual "Oz" show, you can get updated audition information at www.ctgso.org.
THE WINDMILL THEATRE, AUSTRALIA's VERSION OF RSC'S WIZARD OF OZ!
Fast forward to the late 2000's. The Aussies are always a bit progressive when it comes to the theatre. One recent MGM based "Wizard" staging by the Windmill Theatre reinvigorated the MGM script by infusing it with Australian humor, contemporary costuming and combining that with sets/projection effects worthy of a Broadway show. Directed by Rosemary Myers and designed by Jonathon Oxlade, the story begins with Dorothy (Ursula Yovich), not a teenager but more like 21, now lives with her hair-dyed Auntie Em and three boyfriends/'uncles' in a trailer park. The evil Miss Gulch (Geoff Revell in 'old lady' drag and driving a motorized wheelchair), takes Toto by his leash (played by a live actor) and the fun begins. The Emerald City is a nightclub (with a bouncer), Glinda keeps the baddies away with her air freshener and the Wicked Witch (Revell) is utterly effective - as an albino, Narnia/White Witch-inspired monster sporting white contact lenses - truly scary. This production only has a cast of barely ten actors/musicians, but it's innovative staging concepts, projections and puppetry suggest many more cast members. The sets are appropriately Ozzy, and though Windmill took many liberties in updating the film's material and the Harburg/Arlen songs, it was nonetheless a fresh and contemporary way to treat the story, making it a little more adult without being crude -
quite a hard feat to pull off. I'd like to see this one performed in the U.S. The show's trailer can be seen on You Tube.
Scenes from the Windmill production of "The Wizard of Oz", 2009
(Images Courtesy of Tony Lewis, Still Photographer for "Oz")
"THE WIZARD OF OZ" 2008-CURRENT U.S. NATIONAL TOUR:
Current Tour "Oz" photos
Though there are no (notable) celebrities present in the current NETworks non-union U.S. National Tour of "The Wizard of Oz", (ongoing since 2008 for the 1939 film's 70th Anniversary), for the last three years, it continues to play around the U.S. as of this writing. The show, sets and costumes themselves were adapted from the UK's Mayflower Theatre adaptation, and though it utilizes the RSC script, it also went a totally different direction in visual design and there is barely a hint of the famous MGM imagery in both sets and costumes. Despite this, it became a hit, and the longevity of the tour has kept the film alive in the minds of the moms, dads and kids everywhere. I also know for a fact that, early in the planning stages, the "Wizard" producers bookmarked this very page as reference when planning several aspects of the show. Congrats to it's longevity, as it the longest running and most successful tour of "The Wizard of Oz" the U.S. has ever seen.
ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER FOLLOWS THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD IN 2011:
Scenes from Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Wizard Of Oz", 2011
(Screengrabs from the show's official trailer via ALW's "Oz" media website page)
Currently, the UK's 2011 version of 1939's "The Wizard of Oz" at the London Palladium, with Andrew Lloyd Webber at the helm, has launched an ambitious staging with Michael Crawford (of "Phantom Of The Opera" fame) as Professor Marvel/Wizard of Oz and Hannah Waddingham as Miss Gultch/Wicked Witch. Both characters had new songs penned for them (but interestingly, retained snippets of the film's Harburg/Arlen character themes) by the recently reunited Tim Rice and Lloyd Webber. Their channel on YouTube has many clips of the show you can use as reference if this is the way you want to go. However, though it's a very different look and staging than usually seen here in the U.S, (obviously taking much of it's costume and set design from 'Wicked', also playing in the UK) it still manages to faithfully tell MGM's version and, based on recent blog and personal site reviews, UK audiences love it.
STAGING THE WIZARD OF OZ FOR 2011 AND BEYOND:
As the years go by, like sands through the Witch's hourglass, it seems that the traditional 'by-the-book and don't sway or change a thing' days of stagings of "Wizard", are not as they used to be. With technology in theatre to the point now that producers can do almost anything (and have), combined with the nationwide popularity of "Wicked, The Musical' and the audience's hunger for something 'new' yet familiar, we shall see how it goes, but for me, I know there's no place like home.....in MGM's Oz.
To contact me or ask any question regarding your stage production of "Oz", please do so at email@example.com
And now, "We're off to stage (and compare) the Wizards!"
The scenes are listed in the order they appear in the 1939 film for easy identification.
Connie Cantara (as Glinda) melts Kurt Raymond (Wicked Witch) in a humorous publicity still for 'The Wizard of Oz', CCT Theatre, 1996
The Little Farm On The Prairie
Props: Bales of hay, wagon, Dorothy's basket, Miss Gultch's bicycle, Sheriff's order, Zeke's handkerchief, House backdrop, straw strewn across the stage, tray of fake donuts/crullers, rake, cotton balls painted yellow (for chicks) and if budget supports it, a windmill and small wagon for the farmhands.
A "fake" scarecrow can also be constructed and set to the right of the farmhouse. Kansas can be easily created from the above, as it is supposed to be a set with minimal props, to add to the dreariness, though over the years, larger CLO theatres have included full scale houses that fly, and barns with fake chicken coops.
Hunk (Huck), Hickory, and Zeke - Everyone's favorite farmhands
The only "Kansas" character in the MUNY version that lives on the farm with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry is a "farmhand", played by either male or female. The RSC version includes the three farmhands. RSC version directors of late have backed away from using the name "Hunk" (not PC), and "Huck" is now widely used as the name for the Scarecrow's Kansas counterpart.
Miss Gultch, The "Ultimate Witch"
NOTE: Not a misspelling, the RSC script spells "Gultch", as "Gultch". In the MUNY version, there is no "Miss Gultch", character anywhere in the script, but oddly enough, the "theme" created for this character is included in the MUNY piano recordings issued to producers preparing for the show, prompting directors to use this scene from the film for this adaptation often.
In the RSC version, the three farmhands actually stop Dorothy from attacking Miss Gultch. They hold her tight and keep her away as Toto is stuffed into the basket. Dorothy, feeling betrayed by all her family, runs away in anger. The RSC version elaborates on Kansas character development even more by having Miss Gultch return to the farm, after discovering Toto has flown the basket coop, and that's how Aunt Em and Uncle Henry find out Dorothy is missing.
Professor Marvel's Caravan
Needed: Crystal ball (filled with water and glued to the base to make it eerie looking), two chairs, table, gas lit fire among fake logs. If you have the budget to build a facade wagon, then by all means do so. The RSC version is verbatim to the MGM film script. The MUNY version does not include Professor Marvel; thus the Wizard's role is greatly reduced.
It's a Twister, It's a Twister!
The MUNY version features a famous "classical" piece to underscore the twister, whereas the RSC version features the entire MGM twister score. Strobe lights are an effective way of portraying this scene if you are limited on budget. If you have no fly space to fly your characters, you can simply have them twirl around the stage past the audience to the music accompaniment.
If you are able to build a replica house facade, you can have several stagehands slowly twirl the sides of the house around in a dimly lit blackout with fog. If you have a large budget, then employ either Flying by Foy or ZFX to fly the porch facade across the stage. They can also rig up Miss Gultch's bike to "fly" in addition to whatever other objects/people you choose.
Note: ZFX offers complete flying packages for the Wizard of Oz specializing in flexible and original choreography for the flying monkeys, Dorothy, Glinda, the tornado scene and more.
In addition, ZFX has awesome Oz props for rent including Glinda's bubble, the Wizard's basket and a realistic spinning tornado. For more information, call 502.637.2500 or logon to zfxflying.com.
611 Industry Rd.
Louisville, KY 40208
(502) 637-7878 (fax)
Miss Gultch/Wicked Witch cyclone transformation
This can be done several different ways. One is having two actors (note I say "actors", as it is not uncommon for the Gultch/Witch character to be played by a man nowadays - I should know), one with Gultch's outfit, ride the bike onstage, then with the help of a fire extinguisher, change Gultch into the Witch by having the other actor in the Witch costume run across the stage. Fog machines effectively convey the mist quality needed and can be rented on a weekly basis for the duration of your show. If you can fly your actors, have Gultch "fly" ride the bicycle towards the top of the rafters, then have your pyro-technician attach a smoke bomb on the handlebars. When the bomb activator is pushed, the smokescreen can hide the Gultch double in mid air as the character is transferred to the top of the rafters, being replaced by the Witch, who is brought down from the rafters into the same place, then flying offstage. Note your pyrotechnician WILL rehearse this many times.
Kurt Raymond, with the help of green screen, wires, wind machines and digital video imaging, transforms into the Wicked Witch at a rehearsal for The Wizard of Oz
If you REALLY want to get creative, you can do what MGM did and pre-film your tornado riders as they fly by the window. This method is common, using a local rented TV studio with "blue and green screen" capability, and a professional video director. Once completed, the "tornado" film is then projected onto a screen located either inside Dorothy's window or onto a large scrim (a see-through material ideal for projections) that is seen by the audience, looking as if the riders "float" past. Partial use of the "scrim method" was used in the 1998-99 "Wizard of Oz On Tour".
Welcome To Munchkinland
Props needed are: Black striped socks, Ruby Slippers, Glinda's wand, cut out trees, houses, a rainbow, bridge, Lollypops, flower bouquet, Proclamation. NOTE: By far the "wow" scene in the show, the detail (even on a modest budget) should be nothing short of Technicolor wonder. This is one of the "horror" scenes for costumers, as it requires the assistance of at least one costumer on hand for repairing and fitting all Munchkins. The RSC version's initial 1987 staging retained the original L. Frank Baum concept of using the color blue for it's Munchkinland inhabitants. Children are usually cast to play these parts or very small adults (if you can find them). In addition, the RSC created Munchkinland as a miniature version of Hollywood, CA. It included a "Munchkinland/Hollywood" sign and replicas of famous 40's movie studio facades. I know of at least one other production that followed this lead successfully, and it was in Hollywood.
The MUNY version has the Munchkins appear immediately after Dorothy's house lands, leaving room for a three-minute bit of comic relief before Glinda's arrival and Dorothy opening her front door.
In the RSC version, "Aunt Em" and "Glinda", are played by the same actress. This can be tricky, as Aunt Em is at the beginning of the Twister scene, then has to be in "Glinda's makeup and costume in 4½ minutes for her Munchkinland entrance. Directors, make sure you have at least two dressers. The same applies to Miss Gultch, who has less than 9 minutes from her last "Gultch" appearance to get into her full Witch makeup and costume for the Tornado scene.
Glinda's Bubbling Arrival
As mentioned previously, the original RSC production also utilized a large pink bubble (with a built in portable phone, very 80's) for Glinda's arrival. If there is no fly space, this can be done with a pink spotlight following the actress as she walks onstage towards Dorothy. If you have fly space, build a small trapeze, decorate it accordingly and have the actress sit on it as she descends across the stage. Practice is essential. Many a time I have seen poor Glinda get her gown caught in the wires or she gets "flown" up in mid-sentence when it's not her cue to fly.
Wicked Witch's Munchkinland Entrance/Exit
In the MUNY version, the Wicked Witch does appear in Munchkinland, but not until Glinda makes her exit, leaving no conflict between the three women. The RSC retains the film script, but gives the Witch a few more lines for comic effect (an idea that again, does not go over well with some critics to see the Witch as the comic relief in the show). Some newspaper reviewers want the Witch character played straight for dramatic effect, and any trace of comedy in the role is unfortunate suicide for the actor or actress playing the part. A LA Times newspaper reviewer who felt her style of humor was totally inappropriate for the character shred a performance by a famed comic actress.
The massive explosions can be done effectively with a stagehand spewing out steam from the side of the stage using a full fire extinguisher. You can also use a standard fog machine set on high. If a trapdoor is possible, simply have the Witch come up through the trap. Your pyrotechnician will use smoke bombs located underneath or around the door for appearances just like in the film. DO NOT use fire for this effect.
The original 1987 RSC designers created a large black bubble (not unlike Glinda's mode of transport) that carried the Wicked Witch inside. The bubble opened like a spaceship (spewing purple smoke), and the Witch (from a hydraulic lift inside the bubble) sprang up out of the vehicle.
Another innovative "appearance" recently was having the Wicked Witch arrive in a bat-winged chariot pulled by several flying monkeys. This idea was due to the fact no trapdoors were either available or could possibly be built and the director didn't want the Witch to "lessen her character" by merely "stepping out" from the side of the stage. Once the production brought in some profit, the producers added green smoke to spew out the back of the vehicle, much to the chagrin of the coughing children playing Munchkins!
Glinda's Ruby Slipper transferal to Dorothy's feet:
Have the Munchkins surrounding Dorothy and have one Munchkin slip Dorothy the shoes and put them on her feet. The audience will be looking at the House/Wicked Witch so they won't suspect that a Munchkin actually has been hiding the shoes through the entire scene up until then.
Ruby Slipper disappearance
The Ruby Slipper's disappearance from under the house can be done by creating a hole on the side of the house. Push the feet underneath the hole and tie a long string to the legs and then, at the right cue, have a stagehand (unseen behind the house) pull the string with the legs and feet attached right out from under the Witch's hands and through the hole. I have witnessed a few times where the stocking feet fail to slip underneath the house at the proper moment, and the poor Wicked Witch has no choice but to ad-lib her lines.
The Yellow Brick Road
The famous road can be created and projected by your lighting designer if you are not able or allowed to paint the stage. You can also staple a large backdrop to the floor sides and paint it accordingly.
What can be done here, is create a cross-hinged on a small moving platform, and simply have the Scarecrow rest his arms over the T of the cross. When Dorothy lifts him off, he simply jumps away from the cross, giving the impression he's "light on his feet".
Those Cantankerous Crows
The crows, featured in the RSC version, can be flown in and perched near the cross. It's up to the director if they would like small "fake" crows or utilize human actors, since the crows "sing" part of "If I Only Had A Brain". I have noticed that very few directors staging this sequence actually include the crows, though the recent "Wizard of Oz On Tour" DID use them.
MUNY'S "Rainbow Bridge"
The MUNY version features a "Revolving Bridge" sequence created by the Wicked Witch to stop Dorothy and the Scarecrow after their initial meeting. The Scarecrow actually figures out a way to overcome the bridge and the Witch defeated by a Scarecrow, flies off in a rage. The bridge can be built in the round (three dimensions) or cut out altogether.
Apple Trees That Want to Throw Apples
The MUNY does not feature the "Apple Tree" sequence. However, the RSC version does, and they are played (usually) by chorus girls (or men with high voices). They are not employed by the Wicked Witch as in the film but are merely stuck up dancing wannabe's that complain all the time.
Apples can be created using lightweight Styrofoam balls painted dark red (dark red because the lighting will make the apple look pink if you use too light a red shade). Then, attach Velcro to the tops of the apples and the branches of the "Trees". The Tin Man's cottage is utilized in this scene only when the Witch appears, as are the Apple Trees.
The Rescue Of The Tin Man
The RSC version features an extended Tin Man's dance number, which the Apple Trees, are also involved. In a throwback to the Baum book, the Tin Man also tells the story of how he became tin, including how the Wicked Witch of the West put a curse on his axe because of his love for the Munchkin maiden. When said Witch later appears on the roof of his cottage, he yells at her that she is responsible for who he is today, and she responds with "It certainly cut you down to size, didn't it?" Ohhh, that British humor.
Tin Man's Cottage
If you don't have the budget for a cottage facade, then simply build a small rock facade and have the Witch appear on it. Or, have her simply stand on the opposite side of the stage.
Wicked Witch's Fireball
This tricky effect can be utilized using a hand held flashgun (contact Theatre Effects, Inc.). NOTE: To use these, you will need the approval of the local fire Marshall, as these "flame throwers" can shoot fire up to 15 feet and are very dangerous to an untrained actor. Also used is the witch's broomstick which, in my experience, can be rigged (by your pyrotechnician) to shoot flames up to 40 feet, looking especially effective when aimed like a gun and shot from atop the cottage roof. In the 1998-99 "Oz On Tour", there was a large two-dimensional woodpile facade for the Witch to appear on. The back of this set piece was in reality a hydraulic lift that the actress stood on and was "elevated" within seconds (by a stagehand) to the top, creating the effect that she appeared out of nowhere.
Many "Oz" special effects like the one mentioned above utilize a licensed "pyrotechnician", (a licensed professional who can give the show the fiery effects needed.) It means bucks to have one on-board, so included here are ideas on who to contact for pyro effects that the actors can do on their own, after following explicit instructions. NOTE: USE OF ALL PYROTECHNICS are required BY LAW to have a local fire Marshall present or a signed agreement stating what type of pyrotechnics are to be used in conjunction with the show. Failure to do so could result, in your production being shut down.
Many large theatres use just one "Forest" backdrop and a tree cutout or two for the forest. This scene is probably the least decorated in the show. Both "Oz" versions require a large cutout or "in the round" rock for the Lion to jump out from.
The MUNY version does not include a poppy field, yet inserts the now famous "Jitterbug" number at this point in their script. Directors usually switch the "Jitterbug" to the Witch's castle scene for continuity reasons. The RSC version features chorus girls as "Poppies" dancing around with long red scarves to overcome Dorothy and her friends, as the Witch watches the number from the wings. Glinda flies in and actually sings "Optimistic Voices" herself, while the four wake up out of their slumber, giving her a bit more to do musically than Billie Burke, her MGM counterpart.
Poppies Can Be Deadly
These can be created with colored paper flowers glued onto the backs of portable cutouts painted to look like flowers. The stagehands can move them on and off the stage at will easily during blackout.
Glinda's Little Snowstorm
Birthday party confetti works well, and can be sifted from the tops of the rafters by stagehands. Thank goodness Intermission begins right after this scene for thorough clean up. It's widely available in party shops around the country.
One of the most lavishly staged musical numbers, Emerald City is another big "wow" number in "The Wizard of Oz" stage musical ("Jitterbug" is the other). The sets for this scene need not be huge, maybe a few cut outs, and a well-painted backdrop can do the trick. The MUNY's Emerald City set is the most elaborate I have seen to date, with several backdrops that come together in three dimensions, giving the feel of a large town populated with many in the round green buildings and structures. Emerald City Citizens can also carry three-foot long green paper streamers to wave around for "Merry Ol' Land of Oz" for a more 'magical' ambience.
The RSC version extends Uncle Henry's role by assigning his "Oz" counterpart to be that of the first Gatekeeper. It is he who lets the travelers into the City and it is also he who sings "Merry Ol' Land of Oz", not the Wizard.
Merry Ol' Land of Oz
Both the RSC and the MUNY versions have extended lyrics for this scene. It depends on the director how much will be cut if any at all. In the MUNY version, an unnecessary additional character, the Wizard's "daughter" Gloria, sings "Merry Ol' Land of Oz" as the four arrive in the city.
It's interesting to note that though the RSC script itself does not utilize the Baum concept of "green glasses" for Emerald City, 1987 RSC "Oz" director Ian Judge included them as an afterthought, as existing publicity stills can testify.
MUNY'S "Evening Star"
In the MUNY version, Dorothy sings an additional Emerald City number called "Evening Star". This number is usually cut by directors for time constraints in addition to it being unnecessary, given it follows directly after "Merry Ol' Land of Oz". It's a great song, but not for "Oz". The staging concept is that Dorothy is surrounded by male Emerald City Citizens and she sings this number to them as they swoon.
The Wicked Witch and her 'Skywriting Trick'
If it is possible to fly your actors, there are a few ways to do this. FYI, the MUNY version does not feature this stunt. The original RSC adaptation had the Wicked Witch fly on her broom above and across the stage, dropping Surrender Dorothy or Die leaflets on the ground for the Oz characters to pick up and read. A licensed pyrotechnician can also rig the broomstick to spray steam or smoke from the broomstraws as the Witch flies overhead. If your stage has no flyspace, simply have the famous four and the Emerald City Citizens react to the offstage cackle of the Witch as the announcing Gultch theme is playing. Also, similar to the aforementioned Twister scene, the director can hire a computer video director, studio and effects people to film the stunt and project it onto a scrimm, as shown in the below photo.
Flying is prevalent in the RSC production, so all potential "Miss Gultch/Wicked Witch's", "Glinda's" and Flying Monkeys" remember that you may be asked to fly for your character if cast for these roles, be it an Equity Union production or not. Professional flymen are well trained and experienced, and have saved (in my experience), characters from falling (The "Monkeys" accidentally dropped "Dorothy" during a performance of one production's Haunted Forest scene. If the actress had not been wearing a flying harness, and if not for the quick-responding flyman, she would have surely dropped to the ground). The Witch would have had those slippers sooner than she thought!
Kurt as the Wicked Witch skywrites "Surrender Dorothy" with the help of a blue screen, wires, smoke, and a computer generated skyline in The Wizard of Oz
"If I Were King Of The Forest"
The MUNY version does not include this number. The RSC version does. Props include fake flowerpots that break apart performance after performance, Green rug. This is the "showcase" number for the Lion; it can only be done by a vocally prepared actor.
The Wizard's Throne Room
If there is no budget to "pre-film" the Wizard's head, you may construct one out of paper-mach or thick cardboard Creative lighting can also make up for the limited budget. Pyrotechnics are heavily used during this scene with large theatres, since the throne room features fire and spark effects in both the RSC and MUNY versions. The MUNY version uses a concept closer to the Baum book, with the Wizard appearing not as a great head, but as a ten-foot tall monster. You may also pre-film the Wizard's Head, have a technician add a few computer effects to it and then project it onto the throne itself.
The MUNY version has neither Winkies nor Flying Monkeys, content with leaving the Wicked Witch with only one slave, "Tibia", a skeleton like creature. This character leads a "Ghost Dance" in place of the Monkey scene, with the ghosts capturing the group. In the RSC version, the Winkies appear at the start of the "Monkeys Fly" scene, where the Witch has a conversation with the Winkie General (prior to dispatching the monkeys) about why they sing "that loathsome "Oh-E-Oh" dirge, thus enlarging the Winkie's roles.
The famous number cut out of MGM's movie version makes an appearance in both the MUNY (instead of the poppy field) and RSC versions. It is the perfect dance number for the second half of "Oz", and was completely re-scored and re-choreographed for the 1987 RSC version. This scene is always very popular with audiences. In recent years, the Wicked Witch has been the one to start the song ("Oz On Tour", 1997-99), and then the aggressive dancing follows with the leads attempting to escape from the bugs.
The Wicked Witch's Private Chambers
In the MUNY version, an additional scene was added where the Wicked Witch is visited by two "Witch Buddies", "Mombi" and "Sarah". All three then have tea (crumpets, anyone?), all the while plotting to capturing Dorothy. This was to add a little comic relief to the show, but it stops the show short at a time when comedy is not needed in any form. MUNY author Frank Gabrielson must have read the Baum Oz books, because the Witch named "Mombi", is a Baum character, introduced in his follow up to "Wizard", "The Land Of Oz", (1904).
Her Crystal Ball
The MUNY's Wicked Witch has a "Magic Mirror" (shades of "Snow White"?) instead of a crystal ball. The RSC version includes the crystal ball scenes. This effect can be done by pre-taping Aunt Em and the Witch, then projecting the footage into a plastic or glass ball. Or, use a large 19" TV set (with a glass bowl around it) and with the help of an offstage VCR, simply turn on the TV and have Dorothy watch the footage as it plays. Or, even simpler, have Aunt Em appear to the side of the stage covered in "fog", and then slowly the Witch takes her place.
Both the RSC and the MUNY versions do not include a "chase through the castle" scene, though directors have inserted it in the past for dramatic effect. In the RSC version, The Witch appears unexpectedly at the tower window during the rescue/escape and calls the Winkies to surround them. The Muny version has the Witch alone setting the Scarecrow on fire with a flaming "stick".
The RSC version includes the flaming broom scene, but the Witch does not use a torch to light it as in the MGM film. She simply points her broom at the Scarecrow's arm and it bursts into flames, thus igniting him. Your pyrotechnician can rig this effect for you. If you are on limited budget, there is a simpler way to do this: Just before the death scene, have a stagehand stick a piece of dry ice in a cup of cold water and then insert it into a pre-built container within the base of the broom straws. The ice effect will last approximately one minute. Then, have the stagehand hand the broom to a Winkie, who then hands it to the Witch, thus hiding the origin of the effect and giving the idea of "smoke" emanating from the broom itself.
Death to the Wicked Witch
In the MUNY version, the Witch has brewed up a cauldron full of "magic water" to "shrink" Dorothy out of her shoes, but it is she herself who is dumped into the scalding water cauldron by the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion, causing her to shrink into a puppet/marionette. Dorothy has no part in her demise. The RSC version follows the MGM meltdown scene almost verbatim.
If there is no "floor trap" available within the stage floor, then a portable "stair trap" is usually built for the Witchmelt. This is a portable five-stair platform with a hole at the top for the witch to "melt" through. A stagehand, seated directly beneath the contraption, cranks the "witchivator" down the opening, leaving her cape and hat on the stage. A fog machine is then employed under the platform for the needed "steam effect".
"Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" Reprise
The RSC and the MUNY versions both employ the cut number from the MGM film in different settings. In the RSC, the Winkies sing the number as Dorothy and her companions find their way back to Emerald City with the broomstick. The MUNY has the Emerald City Citizens sing it as the four return from the land of the West.
The Wizard's Balloon Ascent
The MUNY version has no "Wizard's Balloon". Instead, the Wizard goes back home in a ROCKET SHIP! This is the scene that the MUNY is easily identifiable with. I am asked many times "did you do the one with the rocket ship?" Many Baum purists have openly bashed this version's ending and with good reason.
In one MUNY version I was involved in, the director simply cut the entire scene and the Wizard (Glinda did not appear) accompanied Dorothy on her way home by holding her hand after she tapped her heels together, kind of a "hitch" ride back to Kansas!
"Tap your heels together three times.........."
As mentioned previously regarding Aunt Em's 'quick changes', in the RSC version, at this point in the script the actress playing "Glinda/Aunt Em" has only three minutes to get out of her Glinda outfit and back into Aunt Em garb in the time Dorothy clicks her heels back to Kansas. The costume changes for this character in the RSC version are horrendous, but directors almost never cast a separate actress to play Aunt Em, so "Glinda" is in for a big shock when she finds this information out. Most directors decide on giving the orchestra a 4-5 minute medley of the film music with a strobe lighting effect and character voice-overs (this gives Glinda (and the farmhands, if needed) a bit more time to change).
Home Again (or is she?)
In the RSC version, there is temporary closure to the Toto/Miss Gultch saga, as it is explained by farmhand Hickory and Uncle Henry that a telegraph pole fell on her during the twister and she landed in bed with a broken leg. No need to have any set for this scene, as most directors simply keep the stage empty, as it's easier for curtain call a minute later.
Curtain Call Order
In this order: Emerald City Citizens, Munchkins, Winkie General, Uncle Henry, Nikko, Wizard, Glinda/Aunt Em, Wicked Witch, Lion, Tin Man, Scarecrow, and lastly, Dorothy and Toto.
Below is a small list of professional contacts for your convenience to help assist you with your "Oz" production.
TAMS WITMARK MUSIC LIBRARY
560 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10022
You can call them and they will send you the piano score and script of both the MUNY and the RSC version of "Oz" for you to review before you make your choice.
642 Frederick Street
Hagerstown, MD 21740
This company is the place to get small hand held pyrotechnics. Every product comes with a brochure explaining exactly how to use and rig the item.
Wizard of Oz Sheet Music and Sound Tracks
An incredible list of what is out there! Check it out!
Where to rent "Witchivators"
Note: Most of these theatre companies will enocourage you to rent their entire Oz package and it is rather doubtful that they would rent the "Witchivator" by itself.
Fullerton Civic Light Opera
Contact: Marilyn @ 715-526-3832
Radio City Entertainment
@ 212-485-7660 ask for the Production Dept.
Other theatre companies that rent Oz sets:
Cumberland County Playhouse
Contact: Jim Crabtree @ 931-484-4324
Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire
Contact: Nancy @ 847-634-0204
There's no place like home.