"We're off to Stage the Wizard"
by Kurt Raymond
The Wizard of Oz by The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Barbican Theatre, 1988.
Over the years, Beyond the Rainbow has received considerable e-mail asking the most efficient ways to stage a production of MGM's "The Wizard of Oz". Well, in answer to questions, here is a brief history and list of comparisons between the two available stage versions (the MUNY and the RSC) to help even the smallest community theatre with their production of "Oz". We hope that these suggestions and comparisons help you decide which version of "Oz" is best for you. To all those preparing to stage "The Wizard of Oz", this article is most affectionately dedicated.
I have had the opportunity of appearing in or being involved with more than twenty stage productions of "The Wizard of Oz" since 1987. Every staging suggestion included in this article are tried-and-true examples of effects I have experienced first hand in my "Oz" stage adventures. In addition to this, I have attempted to include as much rare background on the two versions as possible, giving the reader an idea of how certain scenes were staged on their initial run as well as anecdotes and history on the many versions of "Oz" staged over the last few decades.
The 1902 Broadway stage version of "The Wizard of Oz", starring Fred Stone and Dave Montgomery, was created as a result of the popularity of Baum's fairy tale, published in 1900. It is interesting to note that the first "Broadway spectacular" differed greatly from the original story on which it was based, including the startling omission of both the Wicked Witch of the West and Toto characters, and the addition of several non-Baum characters! Even so, this version enjoyed a long run on Broadway, and some of its ideas were destined for inclusion in the 1939 MGM film classic. .
Fast forward to present. Producers tell me "The Wizard of Oz" is always a pleasure to cast. It has been found that the number of actors that turn out to audition for "Oz" always exceeds the producer's expectations. I recently accompanied a director friend to his "Oz" auditions and over 220 people showed up! It is also worth mentioning that "The Wizard of Oz" is staged an average of twenty five times a year worldwide by various theatre groups, making it one of the most popular Tams Witmark rentals of all time. "Oz" is also a favorite for high school drama departments; with students enjoying every minute playing the roles they loved so much as young children. .
TWO VERSIONS OF OZ TO CHOOSE FROM
Currently, there are two very different stage versions of "The Wizard of Oz" that are available for rental from Tams-Witmark (If you would like to stage a non-musical version of Baum's fairy tale, feel free to write it yourself, the original story is in public domain. However, you may need to fork out additional royalties to Tams if you use any songs and dialogue from the MGM film, as they are the exclusive rights holders to the staging of the film). They are the St. Louis Municipal Opera (MUNY) version, written in the early 1940's, and the 1987 Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) version. The comparisons between these two very different adaptations are the focus of this essay. Though the MUNY version is similar to the Baum book in plot, its similarities to the 1939 film are minimal, utilizing almost none of the MGM film dialogue while retaining a handful of the famous Harburg/Arlen songs. The RSC version is now the most widely used version across the country, with its strong connection with the MGM film script. Where the 1939 film uses the style of a staged musical production number, as in the "Munchkinland" and "Emerald City" sequences both the MUNY and RSC adaptations follow suit. When film and stage techniques are not compatible, each version finds a different solution. .
The RSC "Oz" royalties do not come cheaply, however, and some smaller community theatres have no choice but to use the former. In addition, if you only have the budget for the MUNY version, do not attempt to largely mix that version with the MGM film script, as it does not mix well with the MGM film dialogue, and creates severe holes in the continuity. YOUR INDUSTRY REVIEWERS WILL HATE IT.
Tams Witmark allows cuts for as many scenes as you like in either version for time considerations, but do not "add" too much or you could be subject to additional royalty fees.
STAR CASTING "OZ"
Roseanne as the Wicked Witch in MSG's The Wizard of Oz, 1997
Well known musical theatre companies are known to "star cast" some of the more "colorful" roles to get patrons into the seats, as proven by the MUNY with Bob Keeshan (TV's Captain Kangaroo") stepping into the Wizard role in 1997. Jenna Leigh Green (TV's "Sabrina") stepped into the role of Dorothy at the Music Theatre of Southern California in 1997, Denise Moses (Energizer Battery Company's 1993 "Wicked Witch") donned her witch's garb once more for the Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera (CA) in 1996, and Cathy Rigby as Dorothy at the La Mirada Civic Theatre (CA) for the Performing Arts, 1995. Also in 1995, the all-star "The Wizard of Oz In Concert", starring folk singer turned rock sensation Jewel as Dorothy, Jackson Browne, Roger Daltry and Nathan Lane as the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion, premiered on TNT Cable Network. This was widely considered to be the launching pad of Jewel's singing career. However, the most widely publicized piece of recent "Oz" star casting was in 1997, when New York City's Theatre At Madison Square Garden cast TV actress Roseanne as the Wicked Witch of the West in their production of "Oz", a choice that was not well received by NY theatre critics ("tacky", "loud", "mechanical", "stiff and humorless" were a few comments). MSG audiences enjoyed Roseanne's performance just the same. Theatre at Madison Square Garden went even further in their star casting in 1998 when it was announced that veteran actor Mickey Rooney would portray the Wizard and "Catwoman" Eartha Kitt the Wicked Witch when launching their 1997 "Oz" show for a national tour. Madison Square Garden cut a half-hour from the RSC script in order to give the show a faster pace, hence keeping younger audiences in their seats with no intermission. This highly successful tour recently closed (with JoAnne Worley replacing Kitt as the Witch for the last few months of the run), giving Mr. Rooney a well-deserved break from the demands of touring.
THE MUNY AND THE RSC, A BRIEF HISTORY
The Wizard's Throne Room at the Muny's The Wizard of Oz, 1976
THE ST. LOUIS MUNICIPAL OPERA (MUNY):
The 1939 film songs motivated Frank Gabrielson, the original MUNY "Wizard" adapter. The St. Louis company provided the means and dictated the method. The results are a kind of traditional musical theatre piece. In addition to the 1939 film songs, there is an additional song for Dorothy in Emerald City called "Evening Star". Comic stage business and dance were (for it's time) effectively used where cinematic techniques were impossible for live theatre. Written in the 1940s, this particular script uses humor that is extremely dated and not quite politically correct nowadays. It is precisely these limitations that director's shy way from using this version if they can help it. Actress Margaret Hamilton (MGM's original Wicked Witch) starred in at least two known stagings at the MUNY, one in the 1950's, and including one that also starred the 70's comedy team The Hudson Brothers. Other famous MUNY "witches" have included Cass Daley, Mary Wickes and Phyllis Diller. "Oz" is put on at the MUNY on average every six years. Over the years, some directors have made up for the lack of "MGM-ness" in the film script by wisely staying as close to the MGM costume concepts as possible.
The MUNY retains in-house its beautifully painted "Broadway quality" three-dimensional "Oz" sets and are available for rental year round. I have worked with these sets before, and I must say they are the most visually striking "Oz" sets I have ever seen.
THE ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY (RSC):
Written by producer John Kane in 1986, the 1987 RSC adaptation stays as close to the MGM film dialogue as possible. A new orchestration was created to closely approximate the sound of the original 1939 film orchestra, utilizing even the tiniest snippets of background and incidental music. The scoring by the late Larry Wilcox, is beautifully done, and requires a large chorus. With special effects, the RSC version is a more technically complex production and uses as much of the aura of the film as possible to create in a modern theatre setting. This version was first staged for the (then brand new) Barbican Theatre's 1987-88 Holiday Repertory Season in Britain's Stratford-Upon-Avon, and the Barbican offered all the modern technical wizardry necessary to achieve MGM's cinematic effects in a live theatre situation. The costume designs however, owed more to the 1975 Broadway hit "The Wiz", and W.W. Denslow's original art for his 1900 "Oz" illustrations than MGM, an idea that the British patrons themselves enjoyed, American audiences have proven to not care for, and local newspaper reviewers find blasphemous. It is interesting to note that although the RSC script adaptation is obviously grounded with MGM, their initial 1987 casting and costume choices were somewhat odd. The RSC also (thankfully) made a conscious choice to have most of their British actors play the parts with American dialects. Thirty-five year old Australian actor Bille Brown ("Fierce Creatures") was cast in the dual role of Miss Gultch/Wicked Witch. The 6' 1", stocky Brown played the role in drag (with a white fright wig, a sequined purple ball gown and an eye patch, an ode to both Denslow and Baum's original literary crone) as if he was Bette Middler on steroids, and British audiences didn't bat an eye. Glinda the Witch of the North was initially played by fifty-three year old British TV actress Dilys Laye and replaced the following year by actress Joyce Grant, looking every bit like W.W. Denslow's original art for the more mature and motherly "Good Witch of the North" character in the "Wonderful Wizard of Oz" book, but sounding quite British in her line delivery. Simon Green and Trevor Peacock playing the Tin Man and Cowardly Lion respectively, looked similar to the 1975 "The Wiz" concepts: The Lion donned a jacket and pants, and the Tin Man's costume consisted of junk metal. Thirty-one year old British film and stage actress Imelda Staunton was cast as Dorothy for the 1987-88 run, but it's actress Gillian Bevan (an uncanny sound alike for a mature Judy Garland) who sings the role on the 1989 RSC cast album. The 1987 RSC version was an immediate hit with British audiences, playing to record crowds that season. The show was revived the following year with most of the original 1987 cast, prompting the release of the aforementioned 1989 Original Cast Album in both elaborate vinyl gatefold album and CD packages. It has since become a Holiday staple for various British Musical Theatre Troupes. Acclaimed British actor Brian Blessed ("Augustus" in the British mini-series "I, Claudius") appeared in a recent version of the RSC staging in England.
The Royal Shakespeare Company 1989 London Cast Album of "The Wizard of Oz" with Larry Wilcox's original orchestrations and chorus are still available on CD (but in a shortened version without the elaborate booklet/liner notes and the "Twister" "Over the Rainbow reprise", "Winkies March" and "Witchmelt/"Ding Dong" reprise" numbers sadly omitted). The 1998 "Wizard of Oz On Tour" Original Cast album and the 1995 "Wizard of Oz In Concert" starring Jewel both feature this same orchestration and are widely available, but "Concert" happily features the RSC score in it's entirety. Check amazon.com or your local music store for availability.
The Wizard of Oz 1998 Cast Album CD and the 1995
Wizard of Oz In Concert CD have basically the same
RSC-based orchestra/score (however, tho true to the
RSC in sound, the 1998 version shreds and shortens
much incidental music and dialog
due to time constraints, "The Twister" track is a
prime example). "The Wizard of Oz In Concert" focuses
more on the music/songs first, performance second.
Additionally, the "Oz In Concert" CD has much more (a
lot more, but not ALL as previously written) of the
RSC music score, dialog and incidental background
music (especially in the Wicked Witch's scenes to give
Debra Winger more to do since she didn't sing in the
show), than the original 1989 RSC Cast Album/CD of the
London show it is based on, making it an 'extended'
version of sorts of the 1989 RSC show CD.
NOTE: There is no commercial recording available of
the entire RSC incidental background and musical
"Oz In Concert" is about as close as you can get. The
show itself, on it's original 1995 broadcast (not the
additional music that appeared in the 1939 film but
did NOT appear in the original 1987 RSC stage
("Professor Marvel", a different, more ominous "March
of the Winkies", among other scenes).
Additionally, there is music/dialog heard on the "Oz
In Concert" CD Album that was NOT shown on the TV
broadcast (Debra Wingers'
almost-blooper, saying "Who killed the 'Wid' Witch of
the East?" instead of 'Wicked' in Munchkinland among
COMMERICAL AVAILABILITY ON DVD/VHS: "Oz In Concert"
was available commercially for some time on VHS
videotape (Amazon.com may still list it), but it has
not been made available on DVD. "The Wizard of Oz"
1998 Cast show has never been released commercially on
either VHS or DVD.
From time to time, foreign "Oz" stage productions
overseas have been available on CD, DVD and VHS (you
can check Ebay or the numerous Amazon.com overseas
sites for availability) but chances are these shows
have not been duplicated in the U.S. standard NTSC
format and thus, are unviewable.
PREVIOUS "OZ" NATIONAL TOURS ,
While we are on the subject of costume choices, lets quickly discuss a few of the costume ideas and staging concepts of three recent high profile "Wizard of Oz" National Tours utilizing the RSC script that didn't quite work. In 1989, producer Michel Grilhikes gave us the financially unsuccessful and creatively disastrous 50th Anniversary adaptation of the "Wizard of Oz LIVE!"
The famous four watch the Wicked Witch melt in The Wizard of Oz, LIVE!
An "arena style" national tour staging where Glinda sprouted gigantic wings, the Wicked Witch appeared sporting a bright red plumed pilgrim hat, matching costume, and the Munchkins were two feet taller than Dorothy! It quietly closed in 1990. In 1994, Musicals America of Rhode Island served up a moderately successful national tour of "Oz", with an entire cast of unknowns and marketing it with the herald: "The Royal Shakespeare Company Adaptation." Unfortunately, many local reviewers critically wounded the MA staging, saying; "The Wizard's head looks like an oversized Elmer Fudd puppet, Dorothy is too old and Munchkinland is a simple painted backdrop!" And, "Where's the cyclone?" It did get some attention however for it's originality, as the "Lollypop Guild" and "Lullabye League" were actually giant, well painted marionettes instead of actors. Another, more recent example of "going against the MGM grain" was producer Kenneth Feld's 1996-99 multi-million dollar extravaganza world wide tour of "The Wizard of Oz On Ice".
The Wizard of Oz On Ice,1996
Though the music and script was pure MGM (thanks to a completely new and updated re-scoring and re-recording of the film music with a powerful orchestra), the costumes and staging concepts strayed far from MGM. Although flying was used for the Witch, Glinda simply "skated" her initial arrivals and exits onstage. Miss Gulch rode her bicycle on skates into a filthy outhouse (!) for her "transformation" into the Wicked Witch during the twister, and naturally, many scenes were drawn out far too long to showcase the skating potential in the Emerald City and Poppy Field scenes. There was a shocking double whammy for "Oz on Ice" audiences when singer Bobby McFerrin's pre-recorded voices (common for Ice shows) included not only the male Oz characters, but all the female characters as well.
RSC'S "OZ" COMES TO THE U.S.:
Cathy Rigby and Company tackle The Wizard of Oz,1988
The United States first saw the RSC adaptation in a splashy 1988 staging starring former Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby as Dorothy (who incidentally, landed her very first musical role playing "Dorothy" for the MUNY's version of "Oz" in 1981) and Lara Teeter as the Scarecrow (Teeter also played the Scarecrow in the 1997 Madison Square Garden AND MUNY productions of "Oz!") with the now defunct Long Beach Civic Light Opera. The LBCLO production finally introduced American musical theatre companies to the (then) newly available RSC/MGM script, giving the MUNY staple some competition.
The original 1987 RSC costumes and sets were shipped to the U.S. briefly for the Starlight Musical Theatre Company (San Diego, CA) staging of "Oz" in the early 1990's. They have since been destroyed.
A small list of professional contacts is provided at the end of this guide for your convenience to make your "Oz" production a success.
And now, "We're off to stage the Wizard!"
The scenes are listed in the order they appear in the film for easy identification.
The cast of The Wizard of Oz, Camarillo California Community Theatre, 1996
The Kansas Prairie
Props: Bales of hay, wagon, Dorothy's basket, Miss Gultch's bicycle, Sheriff's order, Zeke's handkerchief, House backdrop, straw strewn across the stage, tray of crullers, rake, cotton balls painted yellow (for chicks) and if budget supports it, a windmill and small wagon for the farmhands.
A "fake" scarecrow can also be constructed and set to the right of the farmhouse. Kansas can be easily created from the above, as it is supposed to be a set with minimal props, to add to the dreariness, though over the years, larger CLO theatres have included full scale houses that fly, and barns with fake chicken coops.
Hunk (Huck), Hickory, and Zeke
The only "Kansas" character in the MUNY version that lives on the farm with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry is a "farmhand", played by either male or female. The RSC version includes the three farmhands. RSC version directors of late have backed away from using the name "Hunk" (not PC), and "Huck" is now widely used as the name for the Scarecrow's Kansas counterpart.
Miss Gultch, The "Ultimate Witch"
NOTE: Not a misspelling, the RSC script spells "Gultch", as "Gultch". In the MUNY version, there is no "Miss Gultch", character anywhere in the script, but oddly enough, the "theme" created for this character is included in the MUNY piano recordings issued to producers preparing for the show, prompting directors to use this scene from the film for this adaptation often.
In the RSC version, the three farmhands actually stop Dorothy from attacking Miss Gultch. They hold her tight and keep her away as Toto is stuffed into the basket. Dorothy, feeling betrayed by all her family, runs away in anger. The RSC version elaborates on Kansas character development even more by having Miss Gultch return to the farm, after discovering Toto has flown the basket coop, and that's how Aunt Em and Uncle Henry find Dorothy is missing.
Professor Marvels Caravan
Needed: Crystal ball (filled with water and glued to the base to make it eerie looking), two chairs, table, gas lit fire among fake logs. If you have the budget to build a facade wagon, then by all means do so. The RSC version is verbatim to the MGM film script. The MUNY version does not include Professor Marvel; thus the Wizard's role is greatly reduced.
The MUNY version features a famous "classical" piece to underscore the twister, whereas the RSC version features the entire MGM twister score. Strobe lights are an effective way of portraying this scene if you are limited on budget. If you have no fly space to fly your characters, you can simply have them twirl around the stage past the audience to the music accompaniment.
If you are able to build a replica house facade, you can have several stagehands slowly twirl the sides of the house around in a dimly lit blackout with fog. If you have a large budget, then employ either Flying by Foy or ZFX to fly the porch facade across the stage. They can also rig up Miss Gultch's bike to "fly" in addition to whatever other objects/people you choose.
Note: ZFX offers complete flying packages for the Wizard of Oz specializing in flexible and original choreography for the flying monkeys, Dorothy, Glinda, the tornado scene and more.
In addition, ZFX has awesome Oz props for rent including Glinda's bubble, the Wizard's basket and a realistic spinning tornado. For more information, call 714.777.1010 or logon to zfxflying.com.
Sales Office: 714.777.1010
Development Facility: 502.637.2500
Miss Gultch/Witch transformation
This can be done several different ways. One is having two actors (note I say "actors", as it is not uncommon for the Gultch/Witch character to be played by a man nowadays), one with Gultch's outfit, ride the bike onstage, then with the help of a fire extinguisher, change Gultch into the Witch by having the other actor in the Witch costume run across the stage. Fog machines effectively convey the mist quality needed and can be rented on a weekly basis for the duration of your show. If you can fly your actors, have Gultch "fly" ride the bicycle towards the top of the rafters, then have your pyro-technician attach a smoke bomb on the handlebars. When the bomb activator is pushed, the smokescreen can hide the Gultch double in mid air as the character is transferred to the top of the rafters, being replaced by the Witch, who is brought down from the rafters into the same place, then flying offstage. Note your pyrotechnician WILL rehearse this many times.
Kurt Raymond, with the help of blue screen techniques, wires, wind machines and digital video imaging, transforms into the Wicked Witch during a rehearsal for The Wizard of Oz, 1999
If you REALLY want to get creative, you can do what MGM did and pre-film your tornado riders as they fly by the window. This method is common, using a local rented TV studio with "blue and green screen" capability, and a professional video director. Once completed, the "tornado" film is then projected onto a screen located either inside Dorothy's window or onto a large scrim (a see-through material ideal for projections) that is seen by the audience, looking as if the riders "float" past. Partial use of the "scrim method" was used in the 1998-99 "Wizard of Oz On Tour".
Props needed are: Black striped socks, Ruby Slippers, Glinda's wand, cut out trees, houses, a rainbow, bridge, Lollypops, flower bouquet, Proclamation. NOTE: By far the "wow" scene in the show, the detail (even on a modest budget) should be nothing short of Technicolor wonder. This is one of the "horror" scenes for costumers, as it requires the assistance of at least one costumer on hand for repairing and fitting all Munchkins. The RSC version's initial 1987 staging retained the original L. Frank Baum concept of using the color blue for it's Munchkinland inhabitants. Children are usually cast to play these parts or very small adults (if you can find them). In addition, the RSC created Munchkinland as a miniature version of Hollywood, CA. It included a "Munchkinland/Hollywood" sign and replicas of famous 40's movie studio facades. I know of at least one other production that followed this lead successfully, and it was in Hollywood.
The MUNY version has the Munchkins appear immediately after Dorothy's house lands, leaving room for a three-minute bit of comic relief before Glinda's arrival and Dorothy opening her front door.
In the RSC version, "Aunt Em" and "Glinda", are played by the same actress. This can be tricky, as Aunt Em is at the beginning of the Twister scene, then has to be in "Glinda's makeup and costume in 4½ minutes for her Munchkinland entrance. Directors, make sure you have at least two dressers. The same applies to Miss Gultch, who has less than 9 minutes from her last "Gultch" appearance to get into her full Witch makeup and costume for the Tornado scene.
Like the MGM film, the original RSC production also utilized a large pink bubble (with a built in portable phone, shades of the 80's) for Glinda. If there is no fly space, this can be done with a pink spotlight following the actress as she walks onstage towards Dorothy. If you have fly space, build a small trapeze, decorate it accordingly and have the actress sit on it as she descends across the stage. Practice is essential. Many a time I have seen poor Glinda get her gown caught in the wires or she gets "flown" up in mid-sentence when it's not her cue to fly.
Wicked Witch's Entrance/Exit
In the MUNY version, the Wicked Witch does appear in Munchkinland, but not until Glinda makes her exit, leaving no conflict between the three women. The RSC retains the film script, but gives the Witch a few more lines for comic effect (an idea that again, does not go over well with American audiences). Newspaper reviewers it seems want the Witch character played straight for dramatic effect, and any trace of comedy in the role is unfortunate suicide for the actor or actress playing the part. A LA Times newspaper reviewer who felt her style of humor was totally inappropriate for the character shred a performance by a famed comic actress.
The massive explosions can be done effectively with a stagehand spewing out steam from the side of the stage using a full fire extinguisher. You can also use a standard fog machine set on high. If a trapdoor is possible, simply have the Witch come up through the trap. Your pyrotechnician will use smoke bombs located underneath or around the door for appearances just like in the film. DO NOT use fire for this effect.
The original 1987 RSC designers created a large black bubble (not unlike Glinda's mode of transport) that carried the Wicked Witch inside. The bubble opened like a spaceship (spewing purple smoke), and the Witch (from a hydraulic lift inside the bubble) sprang up out of the vehicle.
Another innovative "appearance" recently was having the Wicked Witch arrive in a bat-winged chariot pulled by several flying monkeys. This idea was due to the fact no trapdoors could possibly be built and the director didn't want the Witch to "lessen her character" by merely "stepping out" from the side of the stage. Once the production brought in some profit, the producers added green smoke to spew out the back of the vehicle, much to the chagrin of the coughing children playing Munchkins.
Ruby Slipper transferal to Dorothy's feet:
Have the Munchkins surrounding Dorothy and have one Munchkin slip Dorothy the shoes and put them on her feet. The audience will be looking at the House/Wicked Witch so they won't suspect that a Munchkin actually has been hiding the shoes through the entire scene up until then.
Ruby Slipper disappearance
The Ruby Slipper's disappearance from under the house can be done by creating a hole on the side of the house. Push the feet underneath the hole and tie a long string to the legs and then, at the right cue, have a stagehand (unseen behind the house) pull the string with the legs and feet attached right out from under the Witch's hands and through the hole. I have witnessed a few times where the stocking feet fail to slip underneath the house at the proper moment, and the poor Wicked Witch has no choice but to ad-lib her lines.
Yellow Brick Road
The famous road can be created and projected by your lighting designer if you are not able or allowed to paint the stage. You can also staple a large backdrop to the floor sides and paint it accordingly.
What can be done here, is create a cross-hinged on a small moving platform, and simply have the Scarecrow rest his arms over the T of the cross. When Dorothy lifts him off, he simply jumps away from the cross, giving the impression he's "light on his feet".
The crows, featured in the RSC version, can be flown in and perched near the cross. It's up to the director if they would like small "fake" crows or utilize human actors, since the crows "sing" part of "If I Only Had A Brain". I have noticed that very few directors staging this sequence actually include the crows, though the recent "Wizard of Oz On Tour" DID use them.
MUNY'S "Rainbow Bridge"
The MUNY version features a "Revolving Bridge" sequence created by the Wicked Witch to stop Dorothy and the Scarecrow after their initial meeting. The Scarecrow actually figures out a way to overcome the bridge and the Witch defeated by a Scarecrow, flies off in a rage. The bridge can be built in the round (three dimensions) or cut out altogether.
The MUNY does not feature the "Apple Tree" sequence. However, the RSC version does, and they are played (usually) by chorus girls (or men with high voices). They are not employed by the Wicked Witch as in the film but are merely stuck up dancing wannabe's that complain all the time.
Apples can be created using lightweight Styrofoam balls painted dark red (dark red because the lighting will make the apple look pink if you use too light a red shade). Then, attach Velcro to the tops of the apples and the branches of the "Trees". The Tin Man's cottage is utilized in this scene only when the Witch appears, as are the Apple Trees.
The Tin Man
The RSC version features an extended Tin Man's dance number, which the Apple Trees, are also involved. In a throwback to the Baum book, the Tin Man also tells the story of how he became tin, including how the Wicked Witch of the East put a curse on his axe because of his love for the Munchkin maiden.
Tin Man's Cottage
If you don't have the budget for a cottage facade, then simply build a small rock facade and have the Witch appear on it. Or, have her simply stand on the opposite side of the stage.
This tricky effect can be utilized using a hand held flashgun (contact Theatre Effects, Inc.). NOTE: To use these, you will need the approval of the local fire Marshall, as these "flame throwers" can shoot fire up to 15 feet and are very dangerous to an untrained actor. Also used is the witch's broomstick which, in my experience, can be rigged (by your pyrotechnician) to shoot flames up to 40 feet, looking especially effective when aimed like a gun and shot from atop the cottage roof. In the 1998-99 "Oz On Tour", there was a large two-dimensional woodpile facade for the Witch to appear on. The back of this set piece was in reality a hydraulic lift that the actress stood on and was "elevated" within seconds (by a stagehand) to the top, creating the effect that she appeared out of nowhere.
Many "Oz" special effects like the one mentioned above utilize a licensed "pyrotechnician", (a licensed professional who can give the show the fiery effects needed.) It means bucks to have one on-board, so included here are ideas on who to contact for pyro effects that the actors can do on their own, after following explicit instructions. NOTE: USE OF ALL PYROTECHNICS are required BY LAW to have a local fire Marshall present or a signed agreement stating what type of pyrotechnics are to be used in conjunction with the show. Failure to do so could result, in your production being shut down.
Many large theatres use just one "Forest" backdrop and a tree cutout or two for the forest. This scene is probably the least decorated in the show. Both "Oz" versions require a large cutout or "in the round" rock for the Lion to jump out from.
The MUNY version does not include a poppy field, yet inserts the now famous "Jitterbug" number at this point in their script. Directors usually switch the "Jitterbug" to the Witch's castle scene for continuity reasons. The RSC version features chorus girls as "Poppies" dancing around with long red scarves to overcome Dorothy and her friends, as the Witch watches the number from the wings. Glinda flies in and actually sings "Optimistic Voices" herself, while the four wake up out of their slumber, giving her a bit more to do musically than Billie Burke, her MGM counterpart.
These can be created with colored paper flowers glued onto the backs of portable cutouts painted to look like flowers. The stagehands can move them on and off the stage at will easily during blackout.
Birthday party confetti works well, and can be sifted from the tops of the rafters by stagehands. Thank goodness Intermission begins right after this scene for thorough clean up. It's widely available in party shops around the country.
One of the most lavishly staged musical numbers, Emerald City is another big "wow" number in "The Wizard of Oz" stage musical ("Jitterbug" is the other). The sets for this scene need not be huge, maybe a few cut outs, and a backdrop can do the trick. The MUNY's Emerald City set is the most elaborate I have seen to date, with several backdrops that come together in three dimensions, giving the feel of a large town populated with many in the round green buildings and structures. Emerald City Citizens can also carry three-foot long green paper streamers to wave around for "Merry Ol' Land of Oz" for a more magical ambience.
The RSC version extends Uncle Henry's role by assigning his "Oz" counterpart to be that of the first Gatekeeper. It is he who lets the travelers into the City and it is he who sings "Merry Ol' Land of Oz", not the Wizard.
Merry Ol' Land of Oz
Both the RSC and the MUNY versions have extended lyrics for this scene. It depends on the director how much will be cut if any at all. In the MUNY version, an unnecessary additional character, the Wizard's "daughter" Gloria, sings "Merry Ol' Land of Oz" as the four arrive in the city.
It's interesting to note that though the RSC script itself does not utilize the Baum concept of "green glasses" for Emerald City, 1987 RSC "Oz" director Ian Judge included them as an afterthought, as existing publicity stills can testify.
MUNY'S "Evening Star"
In the MUNY version, Dorothy sings an additional Emerald City number called "Evening Star". This number is usually cut by directors for time constraints in addition to it being unnecessary, given it follows directly after "Merry Ol' Land of Oz". It's a great song, but not for "Oz". The staging concept is that Dorothy is surrounded by male Emerald City Citizens and she sings this number to them as they swoon.
If it is possible to fly your actors, there are a few ways to do this. FYI, the MUNY
version does not feature this stunt. The original RSC adaptation had the Wicked Witch
fly on her broom above and across the stage, dropping Surrender Dorothy or Die leaflets
on the ground for the Oz characters to pick up and read. A licensed pyrotechnician can
also rig the broomstick to spray steam or smoke from the broomstraws as the Witch flies
overhead. If your stage has no flyspace, simply have the famous four and the Emerald
City Citizens react to the offstage cackle of the Witch as the announcing Gultch theme is
playing. Also, similar to the aforementioned Twister scene, the director can hire a
computer video director, studio and effects people to film the stunt and project it onto a
scrimm, as shown in the below photo.
Flying is prevalent in the RSC production, so all potential "Miss Gultch/Wicked
Witch's", "Glinda's" and Flying Monkeys" remember that you may be asked to fly for
your character if cast for these roles, be it an Equity Union production or not.
Professional flymen are well trained and experienced, and have saved (in my experience),
characters from falling (The "Monkeys" accidentally dropped "Dorothy" during a
performance of one production's Haunted Forest scene. If the actress had not been
wearing a flying harness, and if not for the quick-responding flyman, she
would have surely dropped to the ground). The Witch would have had those slippers sooner
than she thought!
Kurt as the Wicked Witch skywrites "Surrender Dorothy" with the help of a blue screen, wires, smoke, and a computer generated skyline in The Wizard of Oz
"If I Were King Of The Forest"
The MUNY version does not include this number. The RSC version does. Props include fake flowerpots that break apart performance after performance, Green rug. This is the "showcase" number for the Lion; it can only be done by a vocally prepared actor.
The Wizard's Throne Room
If there is no budget to "pre-film" the Wizard's head, you may construct one out of paper-mach or thick cardboard Creative lighting can also make up for the limited budget. Pyrotechnics are heavily used during this scene with large theatres, since the throne room features fire and spark effects in both the RSC and MUNY versions. The MUNY version uses a concept closer to the Baum book, with the Wizard appearing not as a great head, but as a ten-foot tall monster. You may also pre-film the Wizard's Head, have a technician add a few computer effects to it and then project it onto the throne itself.
The MUNY version has neither Winkies nor Flying Monkeys, content with leaving the Wicked Witch with only one slave, "Tibia", a skeleton like creature. This character leads a "Ghost Dance" in place of the Monkey scene, with the ghosts capturing the group. In the RSC version, the Winkies appear at the start of the "Monkeys Fly" scene, where the Witch has a conversation with the Winkie General (prior to dispatching the monkeys) about why they sing "that loathsome "Oh-E-Oh" dirge, thus enlarging the Winkie's roles.
The famous number cut out of MGM's movie version makes an appearance in both the MUNY (instead of the poppy field) and RSC versions. It is the perfect dance number for the second half of "Oz", and was completely re-scored and re-choreographed for the 1987 RSC version. This scene is always very popular with audiences. In recent years, the Wicked Witch has been the one to start the song ("Oz On Tour", 1997-99), and then the aggressive dancing follows with the leads attempting to escape from the bugs.
The Wicked Witch's Chamber
In the MUNY version, the Wicked Witch is visited by two "Witch Buddies", "Mombi" and "Sarah". All three then have tea (scones, anyone?), all the while plotting to capturing Dorothy. This was to add a little comic relief to the show, but it stops the show short at a time when comedy is not needed in any form. MUNY author Frank Gabrielson must have read the Baum Oz books, because the name "Mombi", also is a Baum invention.
The MUNY's Wicked Witch has a "Magic Mirror" (shades of "Snow White"?) instead of a crystal ball. The RSC version includes the crystal ball scenes. This effect can be done by pre-taping Aunt Em and the Witch, then projecting the footage into a plastic or glass ball. Or, use a large 19" TV set (with a glass bowl around it) and with the help of an offstage VCR, simply turn on the TV and have Dorothy watch the footage as it plays. Or, even simpler, have Aunt Em appear to the side of the stage covered in "fog", and then slowly the Witch takes her place.
With the help of digital imaging and green screen techniques, Kurt's Wicked Witch
appears inside the Crystal Ball in The Wizard of Oz, 1999
Both the RSC and the MUNY versions do not include a "chase through the castle" scene, though directors have inserted it in the past for dramatic effect. In the RSC version, The Witch appears unexpectedly at the tower window during the rescue/escape and calls the Winkies to surround them. The Muny version has the Witch alone setting the Scarecrow on fire with a flaming "stick".
The RSC version includes the flaming broom scene, but the Witch does not use a torch to light it as in the MGM film. She simply points her broom at the Scarecrow's arm and it bursts into flames, thus igniting him. Your pyrotechnician can rig this effect for you. If you are on limited budget, there is a simpler way to do this: Just before the death scene, have a stagehand stick a piece of dry ice in a cup of cold water and then insert it into a pre-built container within the base of the broom straws. The ice effect will last approximately one minute. Then, have the stagehand hand the broom to a Winkie, who then hands it to the Witch, thus hiding the origin of the effect and giving the idea of "smoke" emanating from the broom itself.
Death of the Wicked Witch
In the MUNY version, the Witch has brewed up a cauldron full of "magic water" to "shrink" Dorothy out of her shoes, but it is she herself who is dumped into the scalding water cauldron by the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion, causing her to shrink into a puppet/marionette. Dorothy has no part in her demise. The RSC version follows the MGM meltdown scene almost verbatim.
If there is no "floor trap" available within the stage floor, then a portable "stair trap" is usually built for the Witchmelt. This is a portable five-stair platform with a hole at the top for the witch to "melt" through. A stagehand, seated directly beneath the contraption, cranks the "witchivator" down the opening, leaving her cape and hat on the stage. A fog machine is then employed under the platform for the needed "steam effect".
Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead
The RSC and the MUNY versions both employ the cut number from the MGM film in different settings. In the RSC, the Winkies sing the number as Dorothy and her companions find their way back to Emerald City with the broomstick. The MUNY has the Emerald City Citizens sing it as the four return from the land of the West.
The MUNY version has no "Wizard's Balloon". Instead, the Wizard goes back home in a ROCKET SHIP! This is the scene that the MUNY is easily identifiable with. I am asked many times "did you do the one with the rocket ship?" Many Baum purists have openly bashed this version's ending and with good reason.
In one MUNY version I was involved in, the director simply cut the entire scene and the Wizard (Glinda did not appear) accompanied Dorothy on her way home by holding her hand after she tapped her heels together, kind of a "hitch" ride back to Kansas.
Tap your heels together three times
In the RSC version, at this point in the script the actress playing "Glinda/Aunt Em" has only three minutes to get out of her Glinda outfit and back into Aunt Em garb in the time Dorothy clicks her heels back to Kansas. The costume changes for this character in the RSC version are horrendous, but directors almost never cast a separate actress to play Aunt Em, so "Glinda" is in for a big shock when she finds this information out. Most directors decide on giving the orchestra a 4-5 minute medley of the film music with a strobe lighting effect and character voice-overs (this gives Glinda (and the farmhands, if needed) a bit more time to change).
In the RSC version, there is temporary closure to the Toto/Miss Gultch saga, as it is explained by farmhand Hickory and Uncle Henry that a telegraph pole fell on her during the twister and she landed in bed with a broken leg. No need to have any set for this scene, as most directors simply keep the stage empty, as it's easier for curtain call a minute later.
In this order: Emerald City Citizens, Munchkins, Winkie General, Uncle Henry, Nikko, Wizard, Glinda/Aunt Em, Wicked Witch, Lion, Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Dorothy.
TAMS WITMARK MUSIC LIBRARY
560 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10022
You can call them and they will send you the piano score and script of both the MUNY and the RSC version of "Oz" for you to review before you make your choice.
642 Frederick Street
Hagerstown, MD 21740
This company is the place to get small hand held pyrotechnics. Every product comes with a brochure explaining exactly how to use and rig the item.
Jon Ares Video Design
Jon Ares Website
Jon is a "wiz" at creating computer generated tornadoes and flying characters, he has many "Wizard of Oz" stage production designs to his credit. The most recent being a production I directed.
The Scream Team
Scott Ramp, Owner
Scott creates latex character masks, and is my personal "Wicked Witch" makeup man.
Wizard of Oz Sheet Music and Sound Tracks
An incredible list of what is out there! Check it out!
Where to rent "Witchivators"
Note: Most of these theatre companies will enocourage you to rent their entire Oz package and it is rather doubtful that they would rent the "Witchivator" by itself.
Fullerton Civic Light Opera
Contact: Marilyn @ 715-526-3832
St. Louis "Muny" Opera
Contact: Denny Regan @ 314-361-1900
Radio City Entettainment
@ 212-485-7660 ask for the Production Dept.
Other theatre companies that rent Oz sets:
Cumberland County Playhouse
Contact: Jim Crabtree @ 931-484-4324
Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire
Contact: Nancy @ 847-634-0204
Contact: Rhonda @ 831-755-6929
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