Apr 282011

All of a sudden, it seems there are as many “Wizard of Oz” adaptations as there are Super-Hero ones out there; thanks to Juggler reader Sophie Gale for letting us know that Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber have just opened a stage-version of The Wizard of Oz  in London, at the Palladium. (Sophie- you know that you have the same last name as Dorothy, right?) If you go to their Web-site (above), you can see a brief clip of the show (which kind of looks an awful lot like the MGM musical performed in a theater). Some interesting things: the role of Dorothy was apparently cast with the winner of a British television competition; the Wicked Witch has been rethought more as a Cruella de Ville type than as a Margaret Hamilton type, and has been outfitted with one of the “additional” songs contributed by Mr. Webber and Mr. Rice. (This is the “Red Shoes Blues,” also available at their Web-site and a major hoot, especially as delivered by Hannah Waddingham, who I suspect is the show’s big scene-stealer: “She’s prissy and clueless, so I’ll leave her shoeless- I’ll show her how fiendishly mean I can be!”). 

And according to The Guardian review that Sophie provided, the Cowardly Lion is played as explicitly Gay. Since the Gay Counterculture has long ago picked up on the sub-text behind lines like, “It’s hard, believe me, Missy, when you’re born to be a Sissy, without the vim and voive [verve],” to say nothing of the fact that he spends the second half of the movie with a kind-of femmy bow tied in his permed hair- calling the Lion Gay outright just seems an acknowledgement of what “friends of Dorothy” have known all along. (“Friends of Dorothy” is a code that Gay people used to use to identify themselves- “Excuse me, are you a Friend of Dorothy?” [wink, wink]) I’m pretty sure that Vito Russo mentions the Cowardly Lion in his ground-breaking study of Queer presentation and image in cinema, The Celluloid Closet. Kudos to Webber and Rice for “going there.”

I’m sure someone else here at the Juggler mentioned this before, but Salma Hayek is developing Wicked as an eight-hour miniseries with ABC- only it’s not going to be a musical; it will be derived from the book (it will be an adaptation of the book), but it won’t have songs and dancing: it will be the Wicked where they Don’t sing.

Then there is The Witches of Oz, an independent fantasy-adventure, scheduled for broadcast as a television miniseries in summer, 2011; the grown-up Dorothy Gale (now a successful children’s writer) discovers that she has repressed her childhood memories of Oz, and according to the Trailer posted to YouTube (amidst much stirring music), must remember the Past, in order to save herself and humanity, as the Powers of Good and the Forces of Evil face off in the Adventure of a Lifetime (“she has the Power; she always had!”) Described as a television Event, in which Fears are faced and a Destiny found, it seems to involve the Witches of Oz coming into Our World (specifically, New York City), to engage in some cataclysmic Fight of Magick to the finish- which also sounds a little like 2007′s Enchanted and Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. 

However that plays out- The Wizard of Oz, whether the L. Frank Baum book or the MGM musical or Gregory Maguire’s off-shoot novel, plainly provides fertile soil for modern mythology and repeated story-telling.

  2 Responses to “Wizards and Witches of Oz all over”

  1. Zan,

    (Sophie- you know that you have the same last name as Dorothy, right?) — You betcha, sweetie. And I’ve got the same first name as the great Sophie Tucker. Dorothy’s little namesake is actually buried about 45 minutes from where I live (though I’ve never been there).


    I have to say, I’m just a little disappointed about the Cowardly Lion “coming out of closet” for the new London edition of The Wizard of Oz, because I can’t think of any contemporary version of The Wizard has been faithful to Baum’s lion… I played Auntie Em in a kids’ production fifty years ago (YIKES!) which was faithful. I went back to Baum’s book tonight just to make sure. In the versions we know best, Dorothy’s always had a crush on Scarecrow. But in Baum’s story, Dorothy and the Lion seem to have a closer relationship. Dorothy and the Lion are both captured by the Wicked Witch; Dorothy becomes her domestic slave, and the Lion is supposed to draw the Witch’s chariot. But the Lion consistently drives her out of his pen. Just as Scarecrow is actually smart, and Tin Man is actually sentimental and compassionate, Lion is actually strong and brave–he just doesn’t recognize it.

    Baum doesn’t tell us how many days they are captives, but he does tell us that they bedded down together and poured their hearts out to each other before The Melt Down. And that’s the little bit of grit in my oyster, because I always think of The Wizard of Oz as a story about a Girl and Her Beast. Like “National Velvet,” “Corky and White Shadow” (a very old serial from the Mickey Mouse Club) or Lyra and Pan in “The Golden Compass.” I mean, Toto’s cute and he’s got spunk–but he’s just so UNDERSIZED for a Beast!

    If we are going to talk about versions of OZ, we gotta give a nod to The Wiz, of course. Both stage and movie. And Disney’s Return to Oz (1985) which some scary moments in it, and HBO’s Tin Man.

  2. [...] the quintessential American Movie-Faerey-Tale; its enduring power is demonstrated by the fact that we keep retelling it. It also shows, in an interesting way, how myth can develop and grow, mutating first into this [...]

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