Good-bye Yellow Brick Road
As a child, James Doyle knew more about Oz than Judy Garland's Dorothy ever did. After watching her 1939 MGM classic for the first time, he began to explore the 40-volume Oz book series, which ventured far beyond the familiar confines of Munchkinland and the Emerald City with tales of the Tik-Tok Man, the Patchwork Girl, Princess Ozma and other fantastical beings. Yet none of his readings prepared him for what he encountered in 1973.
At the time, he was a high school junior in Santa Ana, California. He was at home, in the living room, practicing the first violin part for a school production of The Wizard of Oz. The windows were open, as was usual for a balmy Southern California afternoon. He was working on the entrance music of Glenda, the Good Witch, when his next-door neighbor spoke up from the yard between their houses.
"What are you playing?" Felice Louria asked, in her abrupt, bluntly honest style, which endeared the Brooklyn retiree to Doyle. "It sounds like the damned souls in hell."
Doyle went outside and told her what he was practicing. She joined him on the front porch.
"Oh, yeah, The Wizard of Oz," she said, with a note of recognition. "Montgomery and Stone," she added knowingly, as if the names spoke for themselves.
"Who?" Doyle asked.
"You don't know?" she replied. They were, she said, the song-and-dance team that had played the Tin Woodsman and the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz: A Musical Extravaganza in Three Acts, a huge Broadway show at the beginning of the 20th century. She'd seen it several times as a child.
The revelation played right into what Doyle would later call his "other version" fascination: When he learns that a variant of something exists, he wants to know more about it. Felice was happy to indulge the compulsion. She broke into a few bars of the musical's hit song. "Hurrah for Baffin's Bay" she sang, attempting a little dance, as well as a woman in her eighties could.
She described how the Scarecrow worked on the Tin Man to bring him back to life. Every time the Scarecrow loosened a joint, the Tin Man's ax would come down with a whack! With each whack, the Scarecrow would somersault two or three times across the stage. She remembered the audience howling when the Scarecrow quipped, "Some of these tough joints need to be closed down."
The production's crown jewel, she told Doyle, was its cyclone. The show began with the twister off in the distance and everyone on stage running away. Things appeared to blow through the air as a magic lantern projected one slide after another onto a sheet of gauze. Behind it, a series of curtains opened to reveal the progress of the cyclone, working its path of destruction. When it died down, the lights faded to blue and Munchkinland rolled onto the stage, piece by piece, as if by magic.
"I want to know about the show," Doyle thought, when he went back to practicing a half hour or so later. "I want to hear the music."
That conversation would send Doyle on a 25-year odyssey to piece together a musical that was the Cats of its generation -- but one whose form had fallen out of fashion long before Garland's film became the definitive version of the Wizard of Oz story.
Those who know The Wizard of Oz only from the MGM film would find the first theatrical production as foreign as Dorothy found Munchkinland. Sure, both interpretations feature a Kansas girl who joins up with a scarecrow, a tin man and a lion to pay a visit to the wizard. But that's where the similarities end. In the theater version, there are no flying monkeys or lollipop-wielding Munchkins, no yellow brick road and no Wicked Witch of the West. And Toto, too, is missing. Instead, Dorothy travels with a pantomime cow named Imogene, a capitulation to the difficulties of working with a live animal on stage.
Dorothy also has a love interest, Sir Dashemoff Daily, the poet laureate of Oz (played by a woman), who decides, sight unseen, to woo the girl whose house has crushed the Wicked Witch. But before Dorothy speaks her first line, two other plots begin to unspool: Cynthia Cynch, a self-professed "lady lunatic," has been driven mad by the disappearance of her love, Nick Chopper, and looks for him by asking every man she encounters -- in a bizarre swipe from Cinderella -- to play her sweetheart's piccolo. And the same tornado that sweeps Dorothy into Oz also blows in a Topeka waitress named Tryxie Trifle and her boyfriend, a streetcar motorman who happens to be Oz's exiled King Pastoria II. The king wants his crown back.
Periodically the Scarecrow and the Tin Man wander on stage to interrupt the action with egregious puns -- "I'm a soldered but wiser man," says the latter -- and irrelevant topical political humor. (None the equal in this production, the Lion is relegated to a bit part.) The pair even occasions the appearance of a chorus of cooks and waitresses, which exists for the sole purpose of leading into a song about a pie.
After a snowstorm, several dance numbers and numerous songs (which rarely further the plots), the story lines finally converge. Cynthia finds her man, who hasn't been the same since a witch enchanted his ax and turned it against him. (He is, of course, now made of tin.) Pastoria wins back his crown, and Dorothy gets a ride home, courtesy of a good witch named Locusta.
This fanciful piece of musical theater, like the more popular movie later in the century, was based on a book by author L. Frank Baum, who played a large role in bringing the story to the stage. Baum already had written and starred in one musical, The Maid of Arran, when his third children's book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was published in 1900. Although he'd tried his hand at a hodgepodge of occupations -- traveling salesman, magazine editor and general-store manager -- he saw his true calling as a dramatist. When The Wonderful Wizard of Oz proved to be a success, he quickly adapted it for the stage. The script found a willing buyer in Chicago producer Fred Hamlin, who had a knack for backing blockbusters.
Hamlin had his own agenda. He wanted a showcase for David C. Montgomery and Fred Stone, vaudevillians who were on their way to Broadway stardom. (They hit the mark in Wizard, which launched a string of successes that lasted until Montgomery's death in 1917.) Hamlin envisioned Baum's story as a musical comedy, which at the time treated the plot as a mere skeleton from which to hang unrelated comedy routines and specialty song numbers , exactly the sort of audience pleasers for which his featured performers were known. He brought in major-league revisionists, including Glen MacDonough, who would team with composer Victor Herbert in 1903 to write Hamlin's next big hit, Babes in Toyland.
Baum took part in the revisions and got his choice of composer: Paul Tietjens, a serious Chicago musician who had previously concentrated on opera. Tietjens was responsible for the main score and wrote the show's original songs, with Baum as lyricist. As with the script, though, Hamlin didn't hesitate to change the score. He replaced many of Baum and Tietjens's numbers with tunes by a popularly acclaimed but critically derided composer named A. Baldwin Sloane, who ultimately penned some 50 shows, almost all of which have vanished.
In a foreshadowing of theater producer Florenz Ziegfield's extravagant formula, the director padded the cast with 100 girls in tights, who portrayed most of the Munchkins. In case that didn't cinch mass appeal, Hamlin sank $30,000 into special effects. The investment paid off in a flash. The Wizard of Oz: A Musical Extravaganza in Three Acts drew packed houses when it opened in Chicago in 1902. In its first 14 weeks the show netted $50,000 and made a profit every night, Hamlin boasted to the Chicago Tribune.
Crowds erupted everywhere the show played as it made its way across the Midwest to Broadway. It arrived on the Great White Way in January 1903, when it inaugurated the Majestic Theatre on Columbus Circle. The Wizard of Oz ran there for nearly 300 performances, at a time when 100 constituted a hit.
Audiences thrilled to the comic acrobatics, innovative special effects and popular music parade. Critics weren't as bowled over. "The play resembled the story-book about as much as a giraffe resembles a rocking horse," noted The New York World. Uneven vocal performances drew fire from many a reviewer, though The Omaha World Herald aptly pointed out that voices didn't matter "when there was so much feminine beauty."
Those 100 girls in tights must have delivered quite the spectacle, because their presence impressed critics time and again. So did Montgomery and Stone's limber-limbed, scene-stealing antics. But most of all, accolades poured out for the show's breathtaking appearance, from the fantastical scenery (especially the poppy field, complete with singing flowers, which was behind a softening gauze curtain) to the special effects (especially the jaw-dropping tornado).
Critical ambivalence didn't dissuade the crowds. After leaving Broadway, the show had the staying power to support two national touring companies for many years. The lesser one swung through Houston in March 1904, where it played the Sweeney & Coombs Opera House (which stood at 316 Fannin until a fire in 1907). The production had never been equaled in this city, proclaimed the Houston Daily Post.
Although Montgomery and Stone left in 1906, one touring company stayed on the road for nearly six more years. But the show it performed bore little resemblance to what had opened on Broadway, much less what had been tested in Chicago. The Wizard of Oz never had a static script and score, as modern Broadway shows do. From the moment it hit the Chicago stage, the show was continuously rewritten, chopped up and altered, even after touring ended and it went into stock for local companies.
Musical cohesiveness was never the intent, and The Wizard quickly developed into an ever-changing tour of popular contemporary styles, which were unabashedly shoehorned into the light classical score. Songs moved in and out of the lineup without regard for dramatic continuity -- if any existed in the first place. For their second-act specialty, for example, the Tin Man and Scarecrow originally wheeled in a boat to sing the hit Louria had performed for Doyle, "Hurrah for Baffin's Bay." Later in the run Montgomery and Stone switched to a football comedy routine, in uniform, that included tossing the Scarecrow's head around as the ball.
Another practice even more dramatically demonstrated the show's elasticity. At the time, encores did not occur just at the end of performances. They could break out at any point in a show, which led to extra numbers (with absolutely no relevance to the production at hand) and long evenings of unpredictable duration. (No wonder the curtain went down after midnight on opening night in Chicago.) An encore invariably followed the show's first song, in which Cynch bemoans the loss of her love. The tunes for her encore alone demonstrate the looseness of musical comedy a century ago: "The Tale of a Monkey," "The Tale of a Cassowary," "The Bullfrog and the Coon" and "Pocahontas."
Following this anything-goes approach, songs continued to be written for the show as late as 1912. They came from an array of Tin Pan Alley composers, whose contributions included ragtime and cakewalks. The production also picked up tunes from shows that had closed and managed to work in a few numbers from its own participants, including the musical director and Montgomery. In all, more than 100 songs would cycle through the vocal score. Some stayed for years; others passed through quickly.
As with all fads, Wizard mania crested and declined. The show moved into stock for regional companies and gradually descended into obscurity. It was performed as late as the 1940s and possibly the '50s (although MGM film music gradually edged out and eventually replaced the vocal score). The main legacy this theatrical Wizard left behind was electronically controlled stage lighting, which was invented for the show. Other than that, scant trace of the blockbuster remained by the time James Doyle heard about it.
Growing up in Southern California, Doyle had been the sort of kid who played hooky from school to go to the library. The Oz books weren't his only interest there. He backed into a lifelong love affair with musical comedy at the age of 12, when he saw West Side Story on television -- and hated the film so much that he had to know why. He read everything about it he could get his hands on and began collecting cast recordings, Playbills and scripts. He made the rounds of Orange County's junk stores -- even designing a route to high school around them, through the "worst imaginable section of town" -- and scoured the classified ads in record-collecting periodicals such as Goldmine and Discovery.
After graduating from high school in 1974, Doyle spent a couple of years switching majors and "hanging out" at Santa Ana College. He transferred to California State University at Long Beach, where he took composition and orchestration courses as a music major and immersed himself in the library's mother lode of early Broadway scores. He left in 1980 without a degree, when a booming economy lured him and his then-wife to Houston. He shuffled through a variety of jobs, at one point filling orders in a paper warehouse; 12 years ago he landed at the Greensheet, where he is now a proofreader.
All the while, Doyle has amassed an encyclopedic knowledge of musical theater that transcends starry-eyed fandom. He's a walking repository of names, dates, scores, scripts, artist bios and other assorted trivia, encompassing almost everything from long-forgotten musicals from the turn of the century to current sensations such as Phantom of the Opera. He also maintains an extensive collection of scripts, scores, recordings and videos, with an emphasis on the more obscure.
Chief among his archival interests has been the theatrical wonder he first heard about from his old Santa Ana neighbor. Over the years he'd trip upon the occasional piece of sheet music or he'd see a sentence about the production in a book. But it remained elusive.
That changed with a cluster of discoveries in early 1997. In February, sitting at his computer in the one-bedroom apartment he shares with his wife, Katherine Keene, on the edge of Montrose, he received an e-mail tipping him off to the existence of a copyright deposit script for the show. ("I shrieked," Doyle recalls.) He quickly landed a copy from a fellow theatrical trader.
"You have to imagine the look on my face when, after looking for the script for 25 years, it arrived in the mail," Doyle says with a laugh.
He next learned that composer Paul Tietjens's papers are archived at Washington University's Gaylord Music Library. Doyle immediately sent the library a letter expressing interest in doing a concert performance of the Oz music in 2000, for the 100th anniversary of the book's publication. To his shock, the archive consented and dispatched a huge envelope of photocopied music. Buried among Tietjens's handwritten manuscripts was a piece that stunned Doyle: Cynthia Cynch's song "Niccolo's Piccolo." Not only had it been generally considered lost, but it had been attributed to a different composer.
He was so energized that he decided to reconstruct the score. Even with the Tietjens papers, though, huge holes remained. In many instances all he had to go on was a song title, or simply the word "Specialty," with no hint in the script of the number that would have followed.
Doyle's solution was to compose some filler music -- an unconventional solution, to be sure, but one that Doyle's immersion in musical theater had prepared him for. His ear is attuned to the nuances of music and lyrics; he also has a knack for writing songs and accompaniments that capture the mood and the conventions of a particular time or style.
One of his filler attempts took him down a detour. The divergence came when a friend gave him videos of three restored Oz silent films from the mid-teens, which had just been released by American Home Entertainment. Baum himself had written and produced the movies for the Oz Film Manufacturing Company, which he founded after moving from the Midwest to Hollywood. They featured stories from Baum's Oz books about characters other than Dorothy. As fascinating as the silent films were, Doyle recoiled at the soundtracks, which reminded him of a hybrid of New Age and barrel organ music.
Over the course of eight weeks, with a two-week break when his wife fell ill, Doyle turned one of his Wizard filler songs into a 63-minute score for the film His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz. He took the original silent footage, now in the public domain, and dubbed his own music onto it using a home VCR. It's a delightful, lighthearted work, with lively, dancing melodies that fit both the story and the period.
"This little bagatelle," as Doyle terms it, developed a life of its own after he handed out a few videotapes. Doyle subscribed to an Oz mailing list on the Internet and read a favorable review there of his own tape, from someone he had not given a copy. He then found himself listed in the Internet Movie Database as one of the composers who'd scored the film.
The mailing list would soon offer up another surprise: Doyle, after casually mentioning to a fellow subscriber that he was trying to assemble a vocal score for the original stage production, received an e-mail from Michael O. Riley, author of the book Oz and Beyond. In it, Riley urged Doyle to get in touch with David Maxine at Hungry Tiger Press.
In one of those coincidences so strange it smacks of scripting, Maxine had also made the decision to reconstruct the vocal score. Maxine's path was quite different, however. It began, as Doyle's did, in childhood, when his second-grade teacher read the Oz books aloud after lunch. When he was 14, Maxine joined the International Wizard of Oz Club in 1977 and since then has attended at least one convention a year.
"It is a mild obsession," he comments dryly.
Maxine began collecting Oz materials as a teenager. "Initially I just wanted to acquire a copy of all the main 40 Oz books," he says. (Authorized writers have kept the series going since Baum's death in 1919.) One goal led to another. His acquisitions expanded to include color-plate copies, then first editions, then original art; they now boast some 300 foreign translations of Oz works as well.
The Oz focus carried over into Hungry Tiger Press, which he formed in 1994 with his partner, comic-book artist Eric Schanower. Based in San Diego, where Maxine and Schanower moved two years ago, Hungry Tiger's main publication is the annual serial Oz-Story, a 128-page trade paperback with new and historically important writings about Baum. And the press has reprinted several of Baum's non-Oz children's books, such as the Boy Fortune Hunters series and The Flying Girl and Her Chum.
Early in his immersion in Oziana (a collector's term for Oz writings and ephemera), Maxine had read casual mentions of Baum's musical Wizard. The desire to investigate it, though, emerged from another part of his life: his work as a New York University- and Yale-trained theatrical designer. After borrowing a prop, a Victrola, that had appeared in Woody Allen's Bullets over Broadway, Maxine ended up buying it. The purchase moved him into the realm of collecting 78s.
"The more I got into vintage recordings," Maxine explains, "I learned that recordings from the show existed, which Oz scholars didn't know about." He was able to purchase some of them, on wax recording cylinders as well as 78s. His finds also included three unrelated songs performed by the stars of the show.
"Once you've heard the surviving 12 minutes of Montgomery and Stone's voices, you can imagine them performing the script," Maxine observes. The music brought the show to life for him. He was hooked.
About two and a half years ago he began tracking down archival material about the stage Wizard, from photos, programs and sheet music to Tietjens's journals and press agent scrapbooks. Maxine's goal was to reconstruct the show.
In May 1998 he learned that Doyle was working on just that.
Maxine sent the first e-mail. The two approached each other hesitantly at first, doing what Doyle calls "a tap dance of not wanting to give much away." Their relationship evolved as they learned, through a flurry of e-mails, that they had complementary attitudes toward the material. As they began to divulge information, it became clear that each had resources the other didn't. Maxine had more physical material and, though neither of them cite it, a publishing company; Doyle had the memories of Felice Louria and the musical know-how. By combining forces, they could produce something neither of them could alone.
"David was planning to retype the copyright deposit script and create a nicely reproduced collection of sheet music and vocal score," recalls Doyle. After Doyle pointed out that half the manuscripts are unreadable, the pair decided on a full-scale reconstruction of the show.
Maxine took on annotating the script, while the reorchestration fell to Doyle. The composer's work moved into high gear with two critical resources that Maxine provided. First were the copies of vintage recordings, which armed Doyle with a wealth of information, not just the sound of the stars' voices (they "couldn't sing worth beans," he says), but also the inner melodies of songs and the flavor of the period. All these nuances helped Doyle rescore the piece.
Maxine also had photocopies of a mostly complete set of parts for "Selection from the Wizard of Oz," a ten- to 12-minute orchestral piece based on the 1902 score. From this Doyle extracted internal voices and countermelodies, because he was sure they came from the original score, and worked them into song orchestrations and the transformation (a.k.a. cyclone) section of the overture, known as the "Opening Pantomime."
Another godsend was a fragment of the original rental score, which turned up at the Tams-Witmark Collection of the University of Wisconsin's Madison Library. (Tams-Witmark is the organization that grants performance rights and rents scores for musicals, including the currently available stage version of The Wizard of Oz.) Apart from a few song or dance passages, this incomplete set of orchestra parts largely gave Doyle the means to verify hard-to-read sections in the original Tietjens manuscripts.
Doyle and Maxine's biggest challenge was deciding how to handle the songs, since more than 100 had moved in and out of the show during its protracted life. At the outset, their combined collections amounted to about 30 of the show's published songs. Locating more was the first task. Working from reviews and theater programs (he owns about 100), Maxine compiled an extensive song list. Doyle went to work on it on the Internet.
He did one systematic sweep of the Web, then took all the misinformation and misspellings that turned up and poured them into a second group of searches. "I found one-third of the information that way," comments Doyle, who estimates that he has searched through 500 library catalogs. During one AOL Instant Messenger chat with Maxine alone, Doyle located 25 of 60 songs they needed by simultaneously surfing through the Lester Levy collection of early American sheet music at Johns Hopkins University.
A number of works came to them. "After we put feelers out, stuff would just arrive, in a rolling-stone effect," marvels Doyle. Maxine received copies of songs from collectors who had heard him talk on vintage recordings at Oz conventions.
Their collection, now approaching 100, is still not complete, but it continues to grow. In early December Doyle received a copy of a 1908 program with two Dashemoff numbers he hadn't known about, which he found in 20 minutes on-line.
Having amassed the treasure trove of songs, the pair faced the problem of what to do with it. Since the show was in a state of flux, the restorers had to decide what material to use and what to discard. They jokingly considered what would happen if they included everything: Dashemoff would sing 23 songs in Act II, each popular number would have four encores, and the show would run some 27 hours.
Instead, Doyle and Maxine opted to recapture the show as it was during its peak, between 1902 and 1906, since the songs after that period were not part of the initial creative process. By looking at programs and reviews, they were able to determine which songs kept returning to the lineup. "We went with what we considered the best song used in each particular spot over the years," explains Doyle. Their choices topped two dozen.
For some, they had to fine-tune lyrics. In the case of "The Traveller and the Pie," for which Baum wrote four different sets of lyrics, Maxine and Doyle chose the one they found funniest. In a few other instances, they changed a word or two that would now be considered racist or would carry unintended connotations. For that reason, "The Bullfrog and the Coon" is now "Interlude: Cynthia's Bullfrog Song," minus the one internal occurrence of the epithet. "Twas Enough to Make a Perfect Lady Mad," which Maxine has dubbed the "self-fellating dog number," was so unsalvageable that it got entirely new lyrics.
The restorers also returned the focus to the original author and composer. They reinstated the surviving material by Baum and Tietjens, including two uncommonly plot-related songs (and "really good music," Doyle notes) that originally opened Act II. They also re-created the long-lost Act III finale, using reprises of earlier numbers and one reconstructed song. As a result, Doyle and Maxine's compilation contains more material by Baum and Tietjens than was ever performed at any given time.
The reconstruction is not a caricature of the period, Doyle emphasizes, but true to it. And despite the incongruity of the songs, much of the music does have artistic merit. (Baum's lyrics are another matter; he dares to rhyme "malaria" with "aria.") Some of the songs, such as "Niccolo's Piccolo," display a melodic complexity that would fit seamlessly into an operetta. "What's depressing is you take this stuff and set it against 'Memory' [the hit song from Cats] or anything by Frank Wildhorn," Doyle observes, "and this stuff kicks ass."
Now the rest of the world can test Doyle's opinion. After devoting 18 months of weekends and evenings to the project, he has completed the orchestral score, which approaches 600 pages. (The Ring of the Wizardlungen, he calls it.) He and Maxine have also finished assembling a piano/vocal score for the show. They did it entirely by e-mail and AOL Instant Messenger, without once hearing the sound of each other's voices. The first time they spoke was also the first time they met, when Doyle visited Maxine in California last August.
Their project will see print later this year. Hungry Tiger Press is publishing the performance version of the script and piano/vocal score, with copious photographs, scrapbook excerpts and notes explaining both the show's history and technicalities. Doyle's orchestral score will also be available for rental.
In the meantime, one offshoot of their restoration project has already hit the market. In November, Hungry Tiger Music released the CD Before the Rainbow: The Original Music of Oz, featuring selections from five of Baum's plays and one of his silent films. The credited performers, the Utensia Ensemble -- named for a land in Oz inhabited by sentient kitchen utensils -- consist solely of Doyle, a Yamaha XG synthesizer module and other gizmos. Maxine based the cover design on a poster from The Wizard of Oz.
The book won't mark the end of the collaborators' involvement with each other or with The Wizard. Both are speaking at the Oz Centennial conference at Indiana University next July. Doyle will discuss the process of restoring the show, while Maxine will give a slide show reconstruction of the first act. They're also hashing out the logistics to record a concert performance of their reconstructed Wizard. No stage performances are in the works yet.
Doyle has already jumped into two other Baum restoration projects. He's replacing a lost score for a one-act play titled The Uplift of Lucifer or Raising Hell. ("We're talking Orange Julius devil costumes!" he says with a laugh. "We're talking reformers coming to hell!") He's also rescoring another Baum silent film, The Magic Cloak of Oz. And he's expanding his salvage efforts to include other hits of the early 20th century, which he sees as a grossly overlooked period of American musical theater history. His next CD, Perfect Nonsense, is spotlighting "Mikado rip-offs that hit Broadway," including the one that introduced the prototype for all pseudo-Egyptian music, The Maid and the Mummy.
As with Before the Rainbow, Doyle will digitally record Perfect Nonsense right onto his computer, the same tool that assisted him in reclaiming the Wizard of Oz musical. It's strangely fitting. Technological innovations initially helped propel the Wizard into the limelight 100 years ago; now they're part of retrieving it from the shadows.
"This project was largely made possible by the sudden democratization of technology," muses Doyle. "The people who came to see the 1902 Wizard more likely than not arrived in something pulled by a horse. There's sort of a weird bridge sitting at the two ends of the century."
Before the Rainbow: The Original Music of Oz ($16.99, plus $3.50 shipping and handling) is available by mail order from Hungry Tiger Press, 1516 Cypress Avenue, San Diego, California 92103.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.
- State Charges Forward With Licensing Immigration Lockups as Childcare Facilities
Fri., Feb. 19, 8:00pm
Sat., Feb. 20, 1:00pm
Sat., Feb. 20, 7:00pm
Sun., Feb. 21, 6:00pm
- Man Jumps Into Buffalo Bayou Downtown, Feared Dead
- Wanna Make Sure You're Never in a Ted Cruz Ad? Take Off Your Clothes