Monday, September 26, 2011

BBC Radio 4 - The Wizard of Oz

1996 saw the BBC's first radio adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, now under its shorter title. (Is it just me, or did calling it "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" become widespread again after the centennial?) About two hours long, it was initially only available on cassette in the UK. Since then, it's been released on CD in the US and available on Audible.

The adaptation opens with a Judy Garland-esque sounding Dorothy playing with Toto. However this might strike you, it actually follows the book pretty well. Often times, dialogue is lifted directly from Baum and then expanded on. It's almost like something you'd give a MGM movie fan who was reluctant to read the book: something that follows Baum much more closely but flows a lot like the movie.

The nitty gritty: there are four witches, the DOA Wicked Witch of the East, the Good Witch of the North, Glinda, and the Wicked Witch of the West. However, the trip to Glinda's is omitted and she arrives in the Emerald City, saying she felt she was needed due to her "witch's intuition." The Wicked Witch of the West is introduced early, making her feel more like the major villain (unlike Baum), but she doesn't reveal herself to Dorothy like Margaret Hamilton's witch (though she does sound familiar). She keeps an eye on Dorothy from the moment she arrives in Oz, the scene shifting from Dorothy and Co. to the Witch. Early on, I can swear she says she's using a telescope, but later, she mentions her magic eye.

Now, the early introduction of the Wicked Witch allows for some nice moments to set up her character ("If I was a good witch, I suppose I'd go and warn them about those poppies..."), but making her role as a villain larger is one of the reasons why the trip to Glinda's wouldn't work: now the villain's defeated, it's time for the rewards. But in Baum, there isn't a central villain, just a challenge Dorothy needs to overcome: getting back to her family.

The voice acting, if a little MGM-inspired, is top notch! Though the Tin Woodman and some minor characters do have UK accents. The Lion is played up with a over-the-top Bert Lahr-ish Brooklyn accent. However, neither Good Witch really tries to channel Billie Burke.

The overall production quality is very good, but then, this is BBC Radio. However, I must admit to not being able to recall how any of the music sounds.

So, if one wants to hear how Oz has been adapted for audio, this is one version that shouldn't be missed, but given other adaptations of the book for audio have hewed even closer while still being great audio versions, it might not be the best.

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