Musical of the Month
Musical of the Month: A Production History of the 1903 Oz
A Guest Blog By David Maxine of Hungry Tiger Press
The Wizard of Oz is one of the best-loved fairy tales and one of the best-loved films of all time. Yet few people know that it was a Broadway musical in 1903 that made Oz, Dorothy Gale, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman household names. L. Frank Baum’s children's book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published in 1900, forever securing Baum’s reputation as an author for children. But Baum’s first love was the theatre. In the summer of 1901, Baum with Wizard of Oz illustrator, W. W. Denslow, and twenty-four year old composer Paul Tietjens began plans for producing The Wizard of Oz on stage. Baum wrote an operetta-style libretto that was quite faithful to the original book, Tietjens began writing music to Baum’s lyrics, and Denslow began to ponder designs and network with his theater friends to find a producer.
The proposal eventually made its way to Fred Hamlin, producer of the Grand Opera House in Chicago. Legend has it that Hamlin took a chance on the show because it had “Wizard” in the title and his family’s fortune had been made with Hamlin’s Wizard Oil — a cure-all medical tonic. Hamlin showed the material to up-and-coming stage director Julian Mitchell. Mitchell had staged a few shows for Hamlin and was best known for his work in New York with Weber and Fields, for whom he created lampoons of the musical stage-hits of the day — the Saturday Night Live! of the early 1900s. But Mitchell wanted to set out on his own and was looking for a suitable subject. He found it in The Wizard of Oz. Mitchell wasn’t interested in Baum and Tietjens’s operetta. He had his own vision of their show. Why not simply use this American fairytale as fodder for a send-up of the previous twenty-five years of musical extravaganza? It had everything. Lots of potential for strong visuals, animal impersonators, chorus numbers for pretty girls, and a great gimmick! It wasn’t set in Bohemia or on the Islands of Sulu or Florodora — it was set in plain old Kansas and in an Americanized fairyland! Mitchell would add even more Americana to the melting pot: a streetcar conductor, a lunch-counter waitress, and an anarchist sub-plot!
Baum and Tietjens went to New York to work on the show with Mitchell. A frustrated Baum rewrote the script to Mitchell’s new scenario. But Tietjens had a hard time giving Mitchell what he wanted. Paul Tietjens was only twenty-four at the time and The Wizard of Oz was his first score. Tietjens fancied himself a light classical composer in the same vein as Reginald DeKoven and Victor Herbert. Mitchell wanted catchy tin-pan-alley style pop tunes, but they weren’t in Tietjens’s musical vocabulary. Eventually Mitchell would have to look elsewhere for the pop songs to fill out the score. Mitchell’s greatest coup was casting David Montgomery and Fred Stone as the Tin Woodman and Scarecrow. The show made their careers and they helped make the show into a legend.
The Wizard of Oz opened on June 16, 1902, at the Grand Opera House in Chicago. It was a huge summer hit. After playing twelve weeks, it set out on a tour of the upper Midwest, then returned to Chicago for a few more weeks while Mitchell tinkered with the script and score in preparation for taking the show to Broadway. Glen Macdonough was brought in to prepare a new third act, punch up the jokes, and tinker with the lyrics. While these revisions were going on, composer Paul Tietjens was not to be found. After the show opened in Chicago Tietjens fled for Europe in a state of nervous collapse. In Tietjens’s absence more of the book songs were jettisoned and the finales to Acts II and III were heavily rewritten or cut altogether. For the Broadway production, composer A. Baldwin Sloane’s name was added to the score. What Sloane actually wrote for the score remains unclear. Some of the songs attributed to him he did not write. Other numbers attributed to him do not survive, including the new Act II finale, “Star of My Native Land.”
On January 21, 1903, The Wizard of Oz opened on Broadway at the brand new Majestic Theatre on Columbus Circle. It became the favorite of a generation. The audiences couldn’t get enough. The Tornado scene! Fred Stone’s boneless Scarecrow walking about on his ankles! The lovely all-girl poppy field! The glittering Emerald City! The audiences came back for seconds and thirds. They brought their kids. Everyone bought the sheet music, the phonograph records, the player-piano rolls, and Baum’s original novel! Oz had entered the American consciousness.
After nine months on Broadway Wizard was ready to hit the road. In September, the first of the national tours went out, followed soon by a second. The “A” company featured the original stars and Broadway scenery; the “B” company used some of the Chicago scenery and a less stellar cast. In May 1906 Montgomery and Stone left the show to star in Victor Herbert’s The Red Mill and The Wizard of Oz continued on without them. In late 1906 the rights to the show were sold to theatrical producers Hurtig and Seamon who kept the tour running until mid-1909.
In 1910 the Selig Polyscope Company produced a ten-minute-long silent film version. It included features from the Broadway show, such as Imogene the cow, the Tin Woodman playing his piccolo, and an all-girl production number that approximates the Wizard’s Act II number “On a Pay Night Evening.”
Around 1911 Witmark & Sons released the stage show to stock companies. Based on the songs and script included in the stock version, it seems to be a snapshot of the show circa late 1904. The stock version was eagerly produced around the country, including an important revival at the Castle Square Theatre in Boston in 1911. The last confirmed performance took place at the Poli Theatre in Washington, DC, in 1918. But penciled notations in some of the surviving performance materials indicate the show was revived occasionally even up to 1939 when the classic MGM musical film The Wizard of Oz forever eclipsed the show that made Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman as American as apple pie.
Note from Doug:
Mr. Maxine has kindly provided us with a synopsis of the musical from his CD set, Vintage Recordings from the 1903 Musical: The Wizard of Oz. Additionally, he has provided lyrics to the Act II finale (not printed in the copyright deposit that serves as the basis for the script I posted earlier this week). More Oz-related material can be found on the website for his Hungry Tiger Press.
David Maxine is a scenic designer and musical theatre historian. He has theatre degrees from both NYU and Yale, and he received a Grammy nomination “Best Historical Album” as producer of the 2 CD set Vintage Recordings from the 1903 Broadway Musical: The Wizard of Oz. He is currently completing a book on the show.