09 December 2015

The Feelings We Once Had

Of all the famous dramatic adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Wiz in its original form is the most faithful. But of course the 1939 MGM movie is now more famous than either version.

As I observed yesterday, that movie clearly dominated Harvey Fierstein’s thinking about how to adapt the book of The Wiz for Broadway and TV today.

I spotted some other debts/homages to the MGM film that don’t come from the original Wiz:
  • Dorothy wears shiny red sneakers at the start, though public-domain silver shoes later.
  • Aunt Em’s farm employs three farmhands played by the men who (lots of makeup later) play the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Lion.
  • Dorothy is magically faced with the image of a maternal figure (Aunt Em/her late mother) calling for her.
  • We get a view of the distant green spires of the Emerald City across a red-poppy landscape.
  • The Wiz has a “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” moment.
  • Glinda comes to the Emerald City for the penultimate scene instead of Dorothy and her friends going to Quadlingland.
Other elements of Baum’s original story that made it into The Wiz were dropped from this live-broadcast version, such as the Kalidahs as tiger-bear hybrids, the Lion falling asleep among the Poppies instead of outwitting them, and the need to wear green glasses in the Emerald City.

I saw the original Broadway production decades ago, and some elements of its stagecraft have stuck with me. Most memorable was the tornado depicted by a dancer with fabric billowing from her head, an image that inspired the play’s trademark art. The TV production simulated the tornado instead with projected images and wire-flying—much less magical.

The TV version of the Yellow Brick Road consisted of illuminated parts of the stage, like Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” video. The stage original was four men in yellow costumes with poles—another image that stuck with me strongly since I first saw it, probably because it was such a bold staging choice for my young mind.

Curiously, Baum’s Winged Monkeys, which became Flying Monkeys in the 1939 movie and Funky Monkeys in The Wiz, were referred to only as “Winged Warriors” here.


marbpl said...

I saw the original production in 1978, and don't recall the Kalidahs looking like Baum's tiger-bears (although I have no definite image in mind).

J. L. Bell said...

I don't think the Wiz's Kalidahs ever looked like Denslow and Neill's pictures, but were stylized in the same way as the Yellow Brick Road. The script specifies only that they have long noses and sharp claws. I've seen casting calls and reviews specifying that they're a bear-tiger combination, but not every production has to follow that. (The movie presented them quite differently, of course.)

In the recent TV show, the Kalidahs seem to represent some supernatural or psychological danger more than a physical threat. I couldn't identify them at first. Since they're linked to Dorothy's sight of her mother in captivity, which seems to be a creation of the Wicked Witch of the West, and since they had cape-like wings, I first thought those creatures might be the monkeys.

marbpl said...

I remember long noses sort of like the one in the mask worn by Malcolm McDowell in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

J. L. Bell said...

I don't remember that, but I may have been interpreting the Kalidahs strongly through the lens of Baum's book. I've looked for online images of that scene from the original Broadway show and instead came up with lots of other interpretations of Kalidahs, some obviously inspired by tigers with no long noses or claws at all. So directors seem to take leeway.