Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Audible's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Audio Drama

 If you look up Oz on Audible, you'll find a lot of options for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (or just The Wizard of Oz) from abridged to unabridged readings and various audio dramas.

Some years ago, Audible released an unabridged reading by Anne Hathaway as an Audible original. However, they've branched into audio dramas as well. It says Audible Studios is the publisher, so I don't know if it's a company they've put together or one that they fund or what. So now, there's also an audio drama version as an Audible original, which recently became one of the free titles for Audible subscribers to enjoy.

The cover credits Lydia West as Dorothy and Jim Broadbent as the Wizard. West is listed on Audible's page as being part of the UK drama TV show Years and Years, while Jim Broadbent should be familiar to many Oz fans who enjoy other fantasies as he played Professor Slughorn in the Harry Potter films and Professor Digory Kirke in the 2005 feature film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. (The Audible page lists him as appearing in The Iron Lady and Moulin Rouge.)

Oz has of course been adapted for audio drama several times. The BBC has adapted it twice, while there were quite a number of short adaptations on children's records, there's been multi-reader audio books that try to do a hybrid approach of audio book and drama, there was Classic Wizard of Oz, the Los Angeles Children's Museum adaptation from 2000, the Monterey Soundworks adaptation, the Big Finish adaptation, Colonial Radio Theater adapted it and the next five Oz books (with Patchwork Girl still reportedly on the way) and most recently, Crossover Adventure Productions' The Chronicles of Oz, which has adapted the first three Oz books in a free but welcome manner. So there's quite a few to compare it to as you're not wanting for choice of audio dramatizations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Probably those last two are my preferred audio adaptations that I've listened to the most.

So, there's this new version, which runs over four hours long. It pretty much captures each episode from the book with a lot of the dialogue left intact, sometimes being rewritten, sometimes embellished, but very often expanded.

And I do mean expanded. There's no narrator and the characters talk a lot. Way more than they should. The adaptation is by Paul Magrs, who's penned a number of Doctor Who audio dramas as well as his own original fiction. Characters will talk and talk and talk, dragging out scenes for far longer than they need to be.

One needs to remember with Oz that Baum loved the theater and was an actor himself, and much of the dialogue in the Oz books comes from the fact that he got how to have characters communicate. I'm not saying the dialogue in the books stand on their own, but when they're expanded outside of filling in information the narrator isn't saying, it begins to feel tedious.

The story starts right off with Dorothy telling Uncle Henry about the cyclone. Lydia West sounds like a grown woman trying to emulate Judy Garland a bit. (The actress is very private about her life, but believed to be in her mid to late 20s.) The actress is a woman of color, and Uncle Henry sounds like an African-American man, so perhaps this production attempts to make Dorothy and her family people of color, but when you're working in audio only, it can easily get lost. Dorothy's age is also hard to determine. The first slight mention has a Munchkin exaggerate and call her a woman, but she and other characters say that she is a little girl. She doesn't sound like one.

Many of the people of Oz speak with accents derived from the UK. I'm generally fine with this as Oz is another country. The Scarecrow sounds like he's either from north England or Scottish, while the Tin Woodman sounds like a London guy, while the Lion has a bit of Bert Lahr along with his British accent. Broadbent does well as the Wizard, while the Winged Monkeys sound like they're from Brooklyn.

This brings me back to the writing. Clearly, this is a UK-based production. However, Dorothy, our lead character, is supposed to be American. Generally, this is okay, but eventually, Dorothy refers to her friends as "you lot" and even says "sounds a treat" when she hears about having to take the trip to Glinda's. These are not phrases a Kansas girl would be saying.

In Oz, in a concession to the MGM film, it's described that Dorothy's house lands in a Munchkin City, and Dorothy is given Oz lore 101 not from the Good Witch of the North, but by the Munchkin Mayor, who gets a name: Harold. He mentions Lurline enchanting Oz and also Oz maps, with a joke making a deep cut about how Professor Woggle-Bug put the Munchkin Country on the wrong side of the map of Oz he created, but to make up for it, the Munchkins look at their maps upside down. This moment also leads to Dorothy wondering why Toto can't talk, and it's just assumed that he hasn't been in Oz long enough for the magic to catch up to him. (He winds up talking just before Dorothy returns home.) The Deadly Desert gets a lore change in that it makes you lose your memories before finally claiming your life.

I wondered if Harold was replacing Boq, but no, when Dorothy and Toto head down the Yellow Brick Road, they stop at Boq's house, meaning we have two very similar sounding scenes back to back. And both of these Munchkins just talk way too much. Get on with the story already!

When the Tin Woodman tells his story, moments from it are dramatized. Again, there's no need for this except to make this adaptation take even longer. There's no similar treatment for the Scarecrow or Winged Monkeys' story, so it's an uneven presentation.

An odd addition comes after the farmhouse where the travelers stay before reaching the Emerald City. Dorothy reveals the man's injured leg has actually been transformed into an octopus tentacle after he delivered a letter revealing bad news to the Wicked Witch of the West. This doesn't really add anything to the story, and there's no resolution of the man's transformed leg after she's destroyed.

Dorothy is immediately skeptical of the green glasses, with her almost rejecting them when she re-enters the city after defeating the Wicked Witch. Later, the Scarecrow says he'll outlaw them. Despite adding other characters, the green girl who works in the palace/Jellia Jamb is dropped entirely.

The Winged Monkeys basically tell Dorothy how the Golden Cap works when they capture her, and when they drop her off with the Wicked Witch, they ask the Witch to "leave a review." If this type of humor had been used throughout, it might've made the entire production better.

Later, the giant spider actually speaks. That's really all I have to say about the story adaptation without getting into minutia.

The music is nothing great, with some old style moments of violin music to indicate changing scenes or passage of time. Colonial Radio Theater's Jeffrey Gage and The Chronicles of Oz's Tony Diana wrote some really good music for those productions, so in comparison, this is quite lacking. The sound effects weren't bad, but nothing remarkable, either.

Overall, I wasn't a fan. I've heard worse, but I've heard much better.

If you need a way to kill four and a half hours and have a subscription to Audible, you can listen to it for free. Otherwise, they sell it for under $5 if you want to listen to it.

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