01 January 2013

“Nothing for Dorothy”?

The Daily Ozmapolitan tipped me to this recent profile of Andrew Lloyd Webber in the Toronto Globe and Mail. The occasion was the Toronto opening of Lloyd Webber’s reworking of the MGM Wizard of Oz for the stage as it creeps closer and closer to direct competition with Wicked on Broadway.

The Globe and Mail states:
He’s teamed up with his old writing partner [Tim] Rice to pen a number of new songs to add into this stage version of the 1939 movie, which he admires for having “arguably one of the best songs ever written” but he does not think works as well in the theatre: “It has nothing to set up Dorothy in Kansas; it has nothing for the Wizard; and there’s nothing for either of the witches.”
And here I thought Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg’s “Over the Rainbow” did set up Dorothy in Kansas. But the article goes on to quote Lloyd Webber explaining: “There’s nothing for Dorothy – she’s supposed to be this feisty little girl who wants to get out of Kansas and we don’t have anything that suggests [this].”

Indeed, that’s not how the MGM moviemakers dared to depict her. When their Dorothy does try to “get out of Kansas,” she’s punished with the cyclone and her nightmare journey to Oz. She ends up promising Glinda that she’ll never look for her heart’s desire any farther than her yard. MGM didn’t want Dorothy to be “feisty” or to be rewarded for being adventurous.

L. Frank Baum’s original Dorothy got carried off to Oz not because she’d been running away but just by chance. While there she learned about her own strengths. And although she finished that book telling Aunt Em it’s good to be home again, the next time we see her she’s on a ship to Australia during a storm. That’s feisty.

The paper also quotes Lloyd Webber as saying Avril Lavigne “would be good. Very, very good” as Dorothy. It’s a sign of my age that I have no idea what that implies.


Jay said...

I think you know: that ALW has no real concept of what Dorothy's character was always supposed to represent. Although the moral of the MGM film was flawed in the end, it still depicted her as the innocent Kansas farm girl thrown into a strange circumstance.

Avril Lavigne, to me, has no place in Oz. Unless she played Reera the Red.

J. L. Bell said...

I think Lloyd Webber's description of Dorothy as "feisty" fits her inherent quality—but that quality doesn't come out until after the adventure in Wonderful WIzard. It's certainly not part of MGM's version of Dorothy. But it may well be part of what modern audiences want from a heroine and are willing to see grafted back onto the MGM character.

The questions of whether going to Oz is a chance adventure or a punishment for running away, a real experience or a dream—I see those as separate from the question of Dorothy's character.

AMWise said...

I haven't seen the show, but I have listened to the soundtrack, and if anything ALW emphasizes the lesson that Dorothy should never leave Kansas ever again and that Oz is an wholly unacceptable place for her. His attempt at "feisty" seems more "bratty" to me, and while his Dorothy may not cry as often as Judy's, she entirely lacks the longing that makes the MGM film work so well.

The other change he makes is to beef up the Professor Marvel/Wizard role so much that it seems that Baum's humbug has become the driving force behind Dorothy's adventures which seems to miss the point entirely.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for that reading (or hearing).

As I recall, Michael Crawford played the Wizard when this production opened in London. Lloyd-Webber may well have wanted to beef up his part.

It's true that the Wizard doesn’t have any songs in the MGM movie. However, he does have the marvelous speech conferring the brains, heart, and courage on Dorothy's companions, and that was largely written by lyricist E. Y. Harburg. Could it be improved upon?