While it is a sad fact that out of forty Oz books, only a handful have been adapted for the stage, it’s gratifying to know that there are people out there who want to make the rest of the canon, or at least Baum’s books, better known to the public.
To that end, in 1981, the Children’s Theatre Company and School of Minneapolis presented a new musical production of The Marvelous Land of Oz, with script by Thomas W. Olson, music by Richard Dworsky, and lyrics by Gary Briggle, who also played the Scarecrow– and directed. This arrangement was an eleventh-hour one, because a director who had been engaged to adapt the story turned out not to be a good match for the company’s style.
Nevertheless, they turned out an excellent production, keeping very close to the book and not only including all the major characters, but adding one or two others, such as General Jinjur’s second-in-command, Colonel Cardamom (a name that would have amused Baum). Plot alterations, which were few, involved the removal of the scene in the jackdaws’ nest and the inclusion of Jellia Jamb in the team that sets out to save the Emerald City from General Jinjur.
The central role of Tip/Ozma, usually played in adaptations of Marvelous Land by a girl in the “principal boy” tradition of pantomime, was taken by a boy named Christopher Passi, who showed admirable courage by actually appearing in a blonde wig and white gown as the transformed Ozma in the show’s final scene.
Filling out the cast along with Briggle and Passi were Wendy Lehr as Mombi, Carl Beck as Jack Pumpkinhead, Stephen Boe as the Tin Woodman, Rana Haugen as Jellia, Tom Dunn as the Wogglebug, Kathleen Wegner as Glinda, Suzanne Petri as Col. Cardamom, Steve Huke as the Guardian of the Gates, Oliver Osterberg as Omby Amby, and future recording and television star Julee Cruise as Jinjur.
A deal was struck with a video production company, and the musical was filmed before a live audience for television broadcast and eventually home video release. Having seen it, your humble History of Oz Examiner can thoroughly recommend it; the sets and costumes are all first-rate, particularly the elaborate prosthetics used for Mombi, the Wogglebug, the Guardian, and others. The music is easily hummable, a personal favorite of mine being the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman’s reunion song “Not Since the Good Old Days.”
The only thing I might caution people about is the acting. It is not bad, I hasten to say, but the viewer must bear in mind that actors on stage are required to act to the people in the back of the house. This makes the delivery appear rather overmuch when the camera moves in for a close-up; sort of like the actors are playing to the customers in the deli across the street from the theater!
Mind you, the style helped certain characters.