Julian Mitchell was a slight, dapper, and nervous man. When he received The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from Fred Hamlin he had just turned forty-six, and he was one of the most acclaimed theatre directors in the United States. He was also seriously hard of hearing.
It might seem odd for a nearly deaf man to make a career of staging musicals, but Mitchell turned his disability into an asset, making the chorus enact the lyrics instead of simply singing, filling the stage with beautiful and engaging stage business to show through action what another director might have left to the music alone. Like Jerome Robbins forty years later, Mitchell informed every show in every aspect with his sensibilities. Playwright and lyricist Rennold Wolf wrote of Mitchell in 1913 that “a play, to my way of thinking, is not an actable play until the stage director has made it one. It may be a flawlessly constructed piece, and possess more than the average number of elements of success, but before the director has put the author’s ideas into execution and added his own it is a negligible quantity. And by picking the wheat from the chaff, and suggesting new wheat to replace the chaff, Mitchell has ‘saved’ fifty percent of the plays that have passed through his hands.”
Mitchell had been born in New York City, November 7, 1855. He began his theatre career as a call-boy at Niblo’s Garden when he was a teenager, alerting actors to their upcoming cues. According to theatre historian Gerald Bordman, Mitchell "soon found himself on the other side of the footlights, dancing in a revival of The Black Crook," which had premiered at Niblo's Garden September 12, 1866. Mitchell's tenure as call-boy would probably have begun during the Black Crook's 474 performance run.
By 1874 he was performing in the theatrical company managed by his uncle John W. Albaugh. Mitchell's taste for the stage was in his blood. Two of his aunts were major stage stars, Maggie Mitchell (1832–1918) and Mary Mitchell (circa 1834—1908). Maggie Mitchell made a career of performing in Fanchon (1861), based on George Sand’s La Petite Fadette. Julian performed with his Aunt Maggie in a revival of Fanchon in 1881.
|Julian Mitchell performing with his aunt Maggie Mitchell.|
By 1883 Julian was working for Charles H. Hoyt as an actor, dancer, and comedian, appearing first in A Bunch of Keys (1883). Hoyt soon became one of the leading farcical playwrights and producers. But Hoyt had little interest in staging, or even attending, rehearsals. Julian Mitchell began to assist in the staging, and within a couple shows the two men were fully collaborating.
|Julian Mitchell (left) and Charles H. Hoyt performing on stage.|
The June 15, 1890, Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that “Charles Hoyt is busy . . . writing a melodrama, a spectacle, and a farce comedy. . . . Julian, who is Mr. Hoyt’s stage manager and funniest comedian, is assisting in the preparation of these masterpieces.” The 1890 Hoyt and Mitchell collaboration, A Trip to Chinatown, broke the record for the longest-running Broadway musical at 657 performances.
|A Poster for Hoyt's A Trip to Chinatown (1890).|
Julian Mitchell and Fred Hamlin most likely became acquainted during Weber and Fields’s annual visits to Chicago’s Grand Opera House each spring. Most recently, in May 1901, Mitchell arrived in Chicago to stage the latest changes to Weber and Fields's Fiddle-Dee-Dee for its month-long run at Hamlin’s Grand Opera House. Mitchell had just returned from directing the London production of The Girl from Up There, starring Edna May and featuring two newcomers to the legitimate stage, David Montgomery and Fred Stone. Mitchell had enjoyed making The Girl from Up There a success despite its deficiencies. “The Girl from Up There is a good entertainment as it stands today,” said Mitchell, “but it is a bad piece of work on the part of both the librettist and the composer. The hope of such a show is in the performers and the specialties . . .”
In the fall of 1901 Julian Mitchell was looking for a project to work on, a project Fred Hamlin could fund and Mitchell could bring to life. Hamlin thought he might have found just such a show in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Mitchell could use his unique abilities to instill the show with his eye for spectacle, to enrich the chorus—making each member of the line an individual character—and to flesh out the merest skeleton of a script with his non-verbal sense of humor—a quality that perhaps only a certain deaf director might supply.
In late November Julian Mitchell opened a package from Fred Hamlin containing a handsome children’s book and a script for a musical extravaganza called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He sat down to read.
* * *
According to Tietjens’s journal, Baum’s initial scenario, written in late July 1901, was “in 5 acts.” The “5” might have been a slip of the pen by Tietjens. The vast majority of comic operas and extravaganzas were in either two or three acts, as the project The Octopus had been—not five. But perhaps Baum was cramming every possible incident from the book into his scenario. Tietjens did describe Baum’s scenario as “impracticable and too long.” If a five-act scenario ever existed, Baum quickly discarded it. His first draft script conforms to the more traditional three act structure.
Past scholarship (including some of my own earlier writing on the show) has characterized Baum’s first draft script as a faithful adaptation of his children’s book, crediting Baum with writing a modern “musical comedy” or “operetta,” as opposed to an extravaganza, and claiming that Baum’s vision was free of the topical references, vaudeville schtick, and love interests supposedly ramrodded into The Wizard of Oz by director Julian Mitchell. But careful examination of Baum’s first draft manuscript proves otherwise. Baum launched The Wizard of Oz on a direct trajectory toward the Broadway musical it eventually became.
Act I – “Prologue”The curtain rises on a pantomime prologue. Gray tints prevail on the Kansas prairie and a small house at center stage. Dorothy, a Kansas girl, stands in the doorway. Baum has eliminated Dorothy's pet dog Toto from the story, even in this, his earliest draft of the script, and provides no alternative for Dorothy's pet. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry gaze at the coming storm. The music imitates the “moan of the approaching cyclone, increasing to a furious gale, during which [the] stage half darkens and [the] house is carried upward through the flies.”
Possibly Denslow suggested opening the show with the tornado in pantomime. Little Robinson Crusoe, the popular extravaganza Denslow had designed costumes for in 1895, had opened with a comparable pantomime consisting of an elaborate storm at sea, the sinking of a ship, and the titular hero washed ashore.
Baum’s script doesn’t suggest any vision for the staging of the tornado beyond Aunt Em and Uncle Henry watching it and the house rising into the flies with Dorothy. The Kansas pantomime is followed by a quick curtain.
Scene 1 – “The Country of the Munchkins.”Baum preserves the color scheme from the book. The Kansas Prologue featured “grey tints” and now Scene 1 calls for “prevalent blue tints over a landscape of flowers and shrubs, with the dome-shaped dwellings of the Munchkins in the distance.” The original typescript has an addition in Baum’s hand: “Scarecrow on Pole near [left upper entrance].” That poor Scarecrow is going to have to hang around motionless for two long musical scenes and several pages of dialogue.
|Detail from Baum's first draft script with inked addition in Baum's hand.|
At curtain-rise for Scene 1 a “Chorus of Munchkins” is discovered. Baum provides no description of what Munchkins might be beyond the singers being “male and female."
Baum’s script is almost barren of description or detail. It’s not that Baum needs to explain how every effect might be achieved, but he does need to sell the project, to engage and spark the imaginations of potential managers and directors. Luckily Mitchell also received a copy of the children’s book, which fleshes out the paucity of context in Baum’s script.
“Opening Chorus”MUNCHKINS:Our hearts are sad, though our lips be glad—We’re slaves of the Witch of the East!Of toil and care we must bear our shareUntil from our thrall we’re released.The witch has a lash she will flash if we’re rash—We’re powerless her will to oppose;She rules us each day with malignant swayAnd mocks us wherever she goes!We are Munchkins, wretched Munchkins,Slaves of an evil dame!We’re all abused and much misusedAnd yet we’re not to blame.By magic cowed, with labor bowed,Most dreary is our lot:(Enter Witch of the East)For day by day. To our dismay,We’re doomed to feel the knot!WITCH OF THE EAST: (sings)Oh, Munchkins—wretched Munchkins!How dare you thus rebel?Through punishment you will repentAnd this you know quite well.
A trio of Munchkins advances and kneels before the Witch. They sing their pleas for mercy, but the Wicked Witch will have none of it.
WITCH OF THE EAST:Oh, Munchkins—wretched Munchkins!My just anger I’ll subdue;But you’ve incurred by each rash wordSome punishment, ’tis true.It’s just a touch, and won’t hurt much,So calm your nervous fears—Now! Ev’ry one must quick atoneAnd box the other’s ears!MUNCHKINS:Ow!—Wow!—Wow!—Ow!WITCH OF THE EAST:Come to me, I’ll show you how!(She boxes one)MUNCHKINS:Ow!—Wow! Here we bow! And beg a truce you will allow!
The Munchkins continue punishing each other, the Witch departs, and a storm approaches. The Munchkins gaze upward. The Witch re-enters, moving to center stage. The Munchkins shrink away from the Witch who looks upward just as Dorothy’s house is quickly flown down into view from the flies, crushing the Witch. The Munchkins are overjoyed and sing:
Hooray! Hooray! The Witch is dead!The house has fallen on her head!So now are we by chance set freeAnd slaves no longer need we be!By fate’s decree we’re now set free,And slaves no longer need we be!
It’s hard not to enjoy such story-specific lyrics, especially when they so thoroughly presage the song “Ding Dong! the Witch is Dead” from the 1939 MGM motion picture version of the story. You can almost sing Baum’s verse to the Harold Arlen melody.
The door of the house opens and there stands Dorothy, who asks, “Where am I, good people?” The Munchkins tell her that she has killed the Witch of the East and that they are “very grateful, sweet sorceress.” Dorothy explains that she is not a sorceress as she sings:
I’m an innocent Kansas girl—As harmless as girl can be!Engulfed by the cyclone’s mad whirl,Which nobody could foresee.
The song goes on for a while . . .
My one wish is that I may returnTo Kansas and home again;I’ll ne’er be content to sojournIn lands where sorcerers reign;The prairie is lonely I know,In spite of its fields of grain;But even though fierce cyclones blowKansas my love will retain.
The Good Witch of the North arrives. In a heavy, over-written exchange, she and Dorothy speak almost every line of dialogue from their encounter in the book. Baum gets sloppy here. In the Good Witch of the North’s discussion of other witches in Oz, Baum retains mention of the Wicked Witch of the West, a character not otherwise featured in this script, and deletes any mention of Glinda or a good witch in the south, who will be the entire focus of the journey in Act III.
At the suggestion of the Witch of the North, Dorothy takes the Silver Shoes of the dead witch. The Witch of the North gives Dorothy a kiss of protection and sends her to the Emerald City to get the Wizard's consent to return home to Kansas. Finally, the Munchkins sing goodbye to Dorothy:
Farewell, sweet stranger;Guard thee from danger;None would molest one so pretty.Journey unfearingWhile you are nearingThe great Wizard's wonderful city.
All exit except Dorothy, who sits down to rest on a stile. The Scarecrow on a pole winks at Dorothy.
Would a simple wink ever be noticed by the audience? One of Baum's weaknesses in adapting the book to the stage is his failure to consider that what works in a book, often won't work on stage.
SCARECROW:Good morning, little bright eyes. . . . I'm posted to scare away crows and I'm ready to resign the job as soon as you help me down.
DOROTHY:To scare away crows? I thought there must be some caws for your being up there.
SCARECROW:Oh, murder! Don’t talk that way again or . . . I’ll stay up here in the polar regions.
The puns flow on until the Scarecrow sings his Act I solo, “A Man of Straw.” This song, later retitled “Alas for the Man Without Brains,” remained unchanged but for one word (the Scarecrow’s “shapely head” becomes his “lovely head”) through all subsequent script revisions and ended up as a permanent feature of the produced show, though Baum or Glen Macdonough would eventually write a couple additional verses.Tietjens’s journal mentions his composing all the Munchkins’ music, Dorothy’s solo, and the Tin Woodman’s song from Act I—yet Tietjens makes no mention of his composing the Scarecrow's song, despite its being written so early in the show’s creation process. I suspect that the melody for “Alas for the Man” might be the one which Tietjens composed for Gripem Harde’s solo in The Octopus, “For I am a Great Promoter.” Baum and Tietjens reused a fair amount of music from their abandoned comic opera, and that Gripem Harde song was one of Baum’s favorites. Baum may have simply written a new lyric to Tietjens’s preexisting music. The words “For I am a great promoter” can be easily sung to the melody of the Scarecrow’s final line “. . . it’s plain he’ll remain quite brainless!”
You can listen to a recording of "Alas for the Man Without Brains"
via our new VintageBroadway.com YouTube channel.
Copyright © 2019 David Maxine. All rights reserved.