Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Centennial Celebration

The year 2000 brought some much-needed attention to the presence of L. Frank Baum's original book, and while no one was too interested in making a major new film version, new adaptations of the book popped up in other media.

The Children's Museum of Los Angeles produced a rather lavish audio dramatization. In fact, it's longer than most audio versions of the story, clocking in at 3 hours and 40 minutes. Checking the Librivox recording, it's only five minutes shorter than that unabridged recording. (And probably longer if the Librivox bumpers were removed.)

The cast included some big names: Mark Hamill plays a Munchkin named Munch, John Goodman is the Guardian of the Gates, Phyllis Diller is the Wicked Witch of the West, and Michelle Trachtenberg as Dorothy. The music is a combination of classic American tunes and Paul Tietjen's score for the original Wizard of Oz stage extravaganza. And, surprisingly, the Munchkins play a few bars from "A Rollicking Irish Boy" from Baum's score for The Maid of Arran. Also, all the dainty china people sing.

The script is so detailed I think it could have easily been repurposed as a TV mini-series. The plot quite faithfully follows Baum's book, with very few deviations. The story is also fleshed out and rearranged a bit. For example, when the Good Witch of the North leaves, two Munchkins say they need to make a new Scarecrow, and another decides to throw a party he invites Dorothy to.

That little change means the Scarecrow was not made "the day before yesterday," and instead of hearing him tell his story to Dorothy, you hear it happen and then hear Dorothy come along.

Dorothy also sings little songs to herself and her friends, but not in a style to make the production a musical. The songs she sings are varied, such as "The Glow-Worm" and "A Bird in a Gilded Cage," although neither of those songs would have been popular enough to get to a small farm in Kansas in 1900. In fact, "The Glow-Worm" was written in 1902, in German, and the first English translation was about 1905.

I actually just researched those and discovered that. If you're going to have a period piece in which the characters sing, they need to sing songs they would have realistically have known. It was a nice attempt to add something to Dorothy and Aunt Em's characters, but some more research should have been done there.

Some touches from later Oz books come in. The green girl in the Emerald City is named Jellia Jamb, and I think I heard them call the Soldier with the Green Whiskers Omby Amby. The Tin Woodman names the Munchkin girl as Nimmee Amee and the tinsmith as Ku-Klip, but his story follows that in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. And while we're talking about his story, it has been moved to after they meet the Cowardly Lion.

Another example of shifting events around is that there is only one gap in the yellow brick road: the one the Cowardly Lion jumps over. The Kalidahs are still there, but they arrive when the party is about to board the raft to cross the river.

Many times dialogue scenes are dragged out. Do we need to hear the Wicked Witch of the West wonder where to hide the Golden Cap before the Winged Monkeys return with Dorothy? Not really. It's fun, but not necessary. Do we need to hear them changing the Guardian of the Gates at the Emerald City before Dorothy arrives? No. With all this, it's a wonder they dropped the origin story of the Winged Monkeys.

The voices are well-cast, except I did have to wonder why the Tin Woodman sounded French. None of the other characters have distinctly non-American accents, so he stuck out.

Overall, I thought the adaptation was too long for the wrong reasons. It's all right to flesh out the characters a bit, but when it causes the length to rival that of an unabridged recording of the original text, then length is an issue. Like I said, it feels more like the writer had a TV miniseries in mind rather than an audio drama. It's not that it's bad, and the added touches do make it worth listening to, but the length might make one opt not to listen to it again too soon, particularly when shorter, suitable audio adaptations (and even an unabridged reading or two) exist.

The CD version also has a 17 minute track filling out the last disc in which Ray Bradbury talks about his Oz fandom and his thoughts. That is certainly worth listening to!

1 comment:

Eric said...

You're not too far off on the whole TV miniseries thing. It was first syndicated to public radio stations as a four-part radio miniseries. That's where I first heard it (and many thanks to my mother for recording that for me).