Monday, August 15, 2011

Retro Review: The Wonderful World of Oz

In the year 2000, Colonial Radio Theater produced adaptations of L. Frank Baum's first five Oz books. They were released to cassette the next year by Penton Overseas. They were not broadcast on radio before being released to cassette, but have subsequently aired on radio shows.

Penton released the Oz series in three packages: two four cassette packages containing two of the stories (The Road to Oz did not get a release in this format), and a large set of ten cassettes with all five stories. It was this set I requested my library to obtain, and later, when I started building my Oz collection, I hunted down.

Since then, the stories were available as MP3 downloads, and now, new versions that have been edited down a bit are being released to Audible as well as CD.

The stories are very faithful adaptations with a full voice cast. Each story opens with a reading of the introduction of the respective book by Jerry Robbins as L. Frank Baum. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Cynthia Pape narrates, but not heavily. In The Marvelous Land of Oz, Baum narrates most of the first chapter, a part in the middle, and the closing. In Ozma of Oz and the rest of the stories, the characters offer a small bit of narration every now and then, describing what they see and what's going on. (In one part of The Road to Oz, Dorothy takes the role of narrator to describe Ozma's party.) But it doesn't detract too much, as writer Jerry Robbins managed to create some lively dialogue with it, one of my favorites being in The Road to Oz when they're launching the Sand Boat. Dorothy exclaims "Over the desert and into the Land of Oz!" (End Side 2.)

Amy Strack voices Dorothy in all of the stories except The Marvelous Land of Oz, and manages to make her character sound slightly older throughout the series. Tom Berry does a rough, "husky" voice for the Scarecrow, Fredrick Rice voices an emotional Tin Woodman, and David Krinitt pulls off an excellent voice for the Lion. Most of the other voices match their characters brilliantly except for the Nome King. He did sound easygoing at first and then later malicious, which suits the character, but for some reason, the same actor, doing the same voice, appears as King Dox in The Road to Oz. I suppose if the actor had done a deeper voice for the Nome King, it would have worked better.

The Road to Oz ends with Baum reading the last part of his introduction, suggesting the next story would be the final Oz story. As a result, it would suggest that The Emerald City of Oz would be eventually produced and possibly conclude the series. However, it didn't happen, but recently it was confirmed they recorded it at last. (Stay tuned for the next podcast for more.)

The sound effects are amazing, specifically the cyclone in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. You can easily imagine the house being ripped from the foundation and carried through the air. And in a slight deviation from the book, it's a noisy and scary ride for Dorothy, as is evidenced by her dialogue and screams. Jefferey Gage's score is perfect, being whimsical, elegant, and exciting. I especially love the triumphant music that plays when Dorothy and her friends first enter the Emerald City. Also, the songs that are mentioned are not neglected. The Scarecrow sings "Tol-de-ri-de-oh!" when he's rescued by the stork in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and you'll just have to listen for Johnny Dooit's song, which was wonderfully expanded upon for this adaptation.

Baum purists might find a few things to pick at: every major event in Wonderful Wizard is included except for the Fighting Trees. The Woggle-Bug is mysteriously called "the Woogle-Bug" (this will be explained in the next podcast). Princess Fluff of Noland is called "the Princess of Fluff," the Tin Woodman notes that Para Bruin has been pumped full of air, and Queen Zixi's presence at the party in The Road to Oz is not mentioned. (Santa Claus is, however, and has quite a bit of air time.) The Braided Man and the Dragonettes are both dropped from Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, but considering how much they really bore on the plot, it's understandable. However, considering all the pros, it's easy to overlook these.
The cassettes come in a big white plastic clamshell case. The cassettes are all white with blue letters. Each side is marked with a title for the story it covers, often derived from a chapter title: "The Cyclone," "Journey to the Great Oz," "Search for the Wicked Witch," "Away to the South," "The Gillikin Boy," "The Army of Revolt," "The Flying Gump," "Mombi's Spell," "Letters in the Sand," "The Heads of Langwidere," "The Nome King," "Purple, Green, & Gold," "Land of the Mangaboos," "Valley of Voe," "Escape From Pyramid Mountain," "Emerald City," "New Lands," "The Deadly Desert," "Old Friends," and "Journey's End."

The front cover is decorated with a Denslow image of Toto, the Lion, Dorothy, Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman. This piece of artwork was drawn for an advertising poster. Dorothy's face has been redrawn, however. The back cover offers short synopses for the stories, a cast and crew list, a short dedication, and Denslow line art of the famous five Oz characters. The title has the tagline "Rediscover the Magic!" which has been used as a subtitle on some sites.

The audio cassettes are of course out of print, and Penton Overseas doesn't seem to be active anymore. Currently, re-edited versions are available on CD and from sites like Audible.com from Brilliance Audio. (Some scenes have been removed.) However, used copies of the cassettes are for sale online.

Order the complete set of cassettes from Amazon.com, Half.com, and BookFinder.com.
Order the new CDs from Amazon.com:
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
The Marvelous Land of Oz
Ozma of Oz
Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz
The Road to Oz

2 comments:

British Fan Of Oz said...

I have this set and i also a digital as they are also all available to download from iTunes. Well at least in the Uk they are I don't know but would assume available in iTunes US too. I really enjoyed them they are faithful adaptations which are well presented.

I also had several e-mail conversation with Jerry several years ago about how much I enjoyed his work on this and he did mention that they were going to do the Emerald City of Oz straight after but ran out of steam I am plead that it looks like this has been produced and will released. I shall look forward to it and hope they go on to The Patchwor kgirl of Oz too :)

British Fan Of Oz said...

Thinking about it he also explained his reason's for the change of Wogglebug to wooglebug. I won't spoil you next blog with the reason but I understand the change and don't have an issue with it.