Musical of the Month
Musical of the Month: "Ozma of Oz"
The end of the year frequently inspires an introspective comparison of one’s ambitions against one’s accomplishments and an increased (if temporary) resolve to close the distance between the two. I suspect among the crowd celebrating in Times Square this Saturday night, there will be at least a few web designers who wish they were actors, bloggers who wish they were novelists, and bankers who wish they were rock stars. Hopefully this will be the year for some of them.
In my own musings at the end of this month dedicated to L. Frank Baum’s stage adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, I am struck by how many of my favorite authors desired a different sort of career than the one in which they found most success. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle famously tried to kill his most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes, in order to make more time for what he saw as his more important work (e.g. writing political monographs and historical fiction). Sir Arthur Sullivan, after watching a stroke end the career of his friend and colleague, Frederic Clay, was consumed for a time with concern over his legacy and temporarily stopped writing comic operas with William S. Gilbert. And, in the sixth Oz book in 1910, L. Frank Baum (wanting to focus on his other writing, as well as on his theater and film careers) attempted to end the Oz series by writing that Glinda had created a protective cloak of invisibility to seal off all communication with Oz. Each author returned, after a short hiatus, to the work that made them most famous, and they are now best remembered for the successes they came somewhat to resent. If life were an Oz story, Glinda might remind us at this point that the choice of how one will be remembered is not a privilege afforded to mortal beings.
Baum's playwrighting career is now mostly preserved in fragments of drafts scattered across the nation's archives. Baum’s second Oz play, The Woggle Bug, was critically panned and closed in try-outs in Chicago and survives only as a typescript draft on microfilm in the copyright deposit at the Library of Congress (a book featuring some of the same characters and a few similar plot points was also published and is preserved, with all its unfortunate early-20th century racial stereotypes, at the Internet Archive)*. Although disappointed by the failure of the play, Baum remained convinced of the stage potential of his new Oz stories and, in an interview in the August 1909 issue of Theatre Magazine, Baum noted that he was working on a new Oz musical that would be titled either Ozma of Oz or The Rainbow’s Daughter. At the time of the interview, Baum was working with the British composer Manuel Klein (most famous for his work as the musical director at the Hippodrome in New York City), and a typescript of the libretto produced at around that time found its way into our collections here at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. This musical was not produced, however, until 1913, by which time Baum had changed both composers and titles (to, respectively, Louis Gottschalk and The Tik-Tok Man of Oz). The musical opened in Los Angeles and then toured to San Francisco and Chicago, but never made it to New York. Although Gottchalk’s music was partially published and is now available on David Maxine’s website, the final version of the libretto is now lost.
Because so many are interested in Oz, though, I have decided to provide a second libretto this month. The script linked below was transcribed from the copy in our collection by Ann Fraistat and encoded by me (Doug Reside). This draft is dated 1909, titled Ozma of Oz, and credits Manuel Klein, with the music, and so is probably roughly contemporaneous with the Theatre Magazine interview cited above.
Baum died six years after the Los Angeles staging of The Tik-Tok Man of Oz. He wrote a few more musicals and plays and directed several films (including, as I noted in my last entry, several set in the land of Oz), but it is as the writer of the Oz books that Baum is best remembered. As we look forward to 2012 with ambition and resolve, it is perhaps wise to see Baum, Doyle, and Arthur Sullivan as cautionary tales, and to recall that in the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s final resolution is: “If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard.” Not the best advice for everyone, to be sure, but for those of us whose personal soundtrack is a repeating playlist of “Climb Every Mountain,” “The Impossible Dream,” and “Some People,” it is perhaps a good tonic with which to temper our new year’s bottle of ambition.
Happy New Year, everyone. May 2012 bring you your heart's desire.
* As noted by a commenter below, The Woggle-Bug Book is not, as I first wrote, a novelization of the musical, but a separate book, published months earlier. Like the musical, The Woggle-Bug Book uses the Woggle-Bug character from Baum's second book, The Marvelous Land of Oz. I have not read the libretto of the Woggle-Bug musical (anyone want to transcribe and post a copy from the Library of Congress deposit?), but a plot summary in Katharine M. Roger's biography of L. Frank Baum suggests that some of the plot points of The Woggle-Bug Book found their way into the musical (which seems to have been mostly based on The Marvelous Land of Oz).
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