Monday, January 07, 2013

An Aussie Ozzy Show

I recently purchased this DVD from a fellow Oz collector. I'd seen the DVD before, though not the program on it. Co-blogger Sam was passing a copy on to a fellow collector when we met up at Winkies in 2011.

So, this is an interactive stage show from Australia. By "interactive," I mean that children are encouraged to arrive in costume and sing and dance along with the characters and the characters will sometimes ask for the audience to participate by asking questions or asking for them to shout.

Now, this concept has its roots, and probably the most famous example of this is the scene in Peter Pan in which Peter asks the children in the audience to clap their hands if they believe in fairies so they can save Tinker Bell. I've even heard of stage adaptations of Oz in which the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion enlist the aid of children in the audience to help Dorothy defeat the Wicked Witch.

The DVD is definitely a filmed stage show, and well-filmed as well, but it's cut together to flow nicely as a video. There is a framing sequence where, while the final results of a talent show are being decided upon, a puppet show of The Wizard of Oz is shown. This allows for them to simply depict the cyclone and Kansas scenes before moving into the elaborately staged version of Oz. The narrator appears on screen to help things along, though he's clearly lip-synching.

Now, the DVD's opening titles say that it is based on L. Frank Baum's book, but the costumes are definitely inspired by the MGM film, excellent examples being Dorothy, the Scarecrow and Glinda. (I'd say the Tin Woodman as well, but then how else do you depict him for a children's stage show?) The shoes are silver this time, but the lyrics for the songs often show similarities to the MGM film.

The "Follow The Yellow Brick Road" song did a double-whammy on me. Not only did the song remind me of "We're Off To See The Wizard," but the road is depicted by six dancing girls, similar to how dancers depicted the road in early stagings of The Wiz (I understand larger scale productions have recently resorted to special effects instead).

Here's the lyrics to their "Follow The Yellow Brick Road":
Follow! Follow! Follow
The Yellow Brick Road!
Follow! Follow! Follow
The Yellow Brick Road!
We're off to see the wizard,
The famous king of Oz.
Have you seen him lately?
Have you ever heard?
They say he's a wonderful fella
Who can work things out of air,
But it's giving us a scare
And we want to dare
To meet this Wizard of Oz!
The similarities don't end there. Just like "If I Only Had A Heart," the Tin Woodman's rap rhymes "human" with "presumin'." Their Emerald City song cribs from the additional opening lyrics for "The Merry Old Land of Oz" pretty freely:
We hope you like our city of old
Where it's never too hot and it's never too cold
Where you're never too big and you're never too small
And you're never, never, never too anything at all.
If you're not familiar with the original, the lyrics go:
There's a garden spot I'm told,
Where it's never too hot and it's never too cold
Where you're never too young and you're never too old
Where you're never too big or small
And you're never, never, never too too too anything at all.
The Tin Woodman raps to Dorothy:
Somewhere o'er the rainbow
The skies are really blue
And all the dreams you dream
Are surely coming true
And over that same rainbow
If the bluebirds can fly
If I believe enough in my heart,
So can I!
There are other examples as well, but I think I've said enough. However, there are plenty of other songs with mainly original lyrics. They also have "The Hokey Pokey," and in a scene where I could only smile and chuckle, "The Forest Macarena."

Surprisingly, bits from Baum's book do pop up: The Tin Woodman (who raps) reveals he was once human and in love, but the girl's mother traded two cows and a sheep to have him turned into tin. During this song sequence, the Scarecrow counters that a heart wouldn't be much good without a brain, just as he does in the book.

The plot is generally the MGM film's plot, except the forest they meet the Tin Woodman and Lion in is called "The Forest of Darkness," and we assume the entire group is in there until they come to the Emerald City. There's only a small bed of poppies that put Dorothy to sleep, and urging of the Yellow Brick Road dancers and her friends is enough to wake her. So "The Forest of Darkness" allows for many song sequences.

You may wonder about accents. To be honest, I didn't find them that distracting. Glinda probably has the most markedly Australian accent, but it wasn't bad. On the other hand, I am a guy who regularly talks to an Australian on Skype...

Overall, it's a curious adaptation of Oz with a fun take on the story, even if it does hew very closely to a certain famous adaptation.

Some notes about the DVD: it contains a featurette about an Oz convention in Australia that the show was part of, and Munchkin Margaret Pellegrini appears. It seems this was in the year 2000. There's a song selection menu and a scene selection, so it's actually broken into many chapters.

The video is filmed in a 16:9 (widescreen) aspect ratio, but it is not anamorphic, so if you play this on a widescreen television, you'll get bars on the top, bottom AND sides of the picture (unless your DVD player can let you zoom in). A reason for this is the lyrics that appear onscreen. They look like subtitles, but they cannot be turned on or off: they are part of the picture. Ideally, this should have been done with subtitles and made selectable, thus allowing the video to be anamorphic, but it was not done.

If you're interested in purchasing this curious Oz DVD, it is still for sale on the show's website. Note, the payment is in Australian dollars (check the current exchange rate), and the DVD didn't specify if it was encoded for all Regions, or Region 4 (Australia), nor if the frame rate is PAL or NTSC. (Trying to check this information on my own wasn't helpful.) Thus, it's recommended you have a DVD player capable of playing all regions just in case. If you're just interested in the music, they also have a CD.

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