Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Opening Prayer - Part III

Chapter heading from the children's book.

Scene 2 — "The Road Through the Forest."

Baum named this scene after chapter four in his children’s book. His literary allusion remained a permanent part of the show. The book-oriented color scheme continues with “prevalent blue tints over forest background. Practical mechanical bushes screening Tin Woodman near Center. Stump at right. Pavement of yellow brick to indicate road.”

Baum’s request for a “yellow brick road floor covering seems odd since he has neglected to mention a yellow brick road anywhere in the dialogue. Laying down a new ground cloth (a large piece of thick canvas tacked to the floor) painted with yellow bricks would be a labor-intensive scene change. If Baum had made the yellow brick road a central feature of the script and the ground cloth was utilized in the Munchkin and Scarecrow scene, this “Road through the Forest” scene, and the following Poppy Field scene, it might have been a handsome and clever stage gimmick. But as written, Baum’s desire for extra scenery serves no purpose. A potential manager would see Baum’s request as costing a good number of bucks for very little bang.

Over the next three densely packed pages of single-spaced dialogue Dorothy meets and rescues the Tin Woodman. He tells of his love for a pretty Munchkin maiden, “who loved me so dearly . . . she would often come and hold the trees while I chopped them down, and then lower them gently to the ground.” These lines of dialogue (and many others) from Baum’s first draft of Act I made it into the final show, contrary to the aforementioned past scholarship, which would have one believe Julian Mitchell junked Baum’s first draft script altogether.

The Tin Woodman continues his tale. The Wicked Witch discovered the two lovers and enchanted his axe, which proceeded to chop him up.

TIN WOODMAN:
The tin-smith replaced the missing members with tin and I kept on chopping wood and saying nothing. The pretty maiden still loved me. I was bright enough to see that.

SCARECROW:
You are bright enough to live in Spotless Town.

Baum’s attempt at topical humor probably needs some explanation. Spotless Town was a fictitious village featured in an advertising campaign begun in March 1900 to advertise Sapolio soap. The always bright and shiny inhabitants of Spotless Town were presented via jingles and cartoons on advertising cards posted in trains. The Scarecrow (and Baum) thought the “bright” Tin Woodman would fit right in.

An advertising card for Sapolio soap featuring "Spotless Town." ca. 1901
TIN WOODMAN:
Yes, and that makes me reflect [. . .] the tinsmith had [. . .] failed to furnish me with a heart.

SCARECROW:
That probably came extra.

After more puns and topical references, the Tin Woodman sings “Oh, Love’s the Thing,” which also made it into the final production, retitled “When You Love, Love, Love.” 


Still another wordy conversation follows.

DOROTHY:
Perhaps Oz has an odd heart he could fix you up with? Are you particular about the size or quality of your heart or would you be satisfied with the common garden variety?

TIN WOODMAN:
Who is Oz, a butcher? [ . . . ] Where do we get a train for the Emerald City? That ought to be someplace near Green Bay.

(A LION roars off-stage.)

DOROTHY:
It sounds like some savage beast.

 The Woodman doubts it, suggesting they might simply be “near a bowling alley.”

The Cowardly Lion enters, knocking the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman to the ground. Dorothy slaps it on the nose. “Lie down, Fido! How dare you try to bite a poor little girl like me?” The lion shakes its head in negation. “You are nothing but a great big coward!” The Lion nods his head in admission, shrinks, and covers his eyes with his paws. The lion has hurt his teeth from biting the Tin Woodman and keeps poking at his mouth.

DOROTHY:
Now, then ain’t you ashamed of yourself for attacking two helpless men like these? And ain’t you ashamed of being a coward? A great, big, bold looking lion like you, supposed to be king of the beasts, admitting that he is a coward! The idea is preposterous.

(The LION weeps.)

SCARECROW:
It’s worse than that. It’s positively hydraulic!

TIN WOODMAN:
Let’s take Nero with us to the Emerald City. Maybe Oz can give him some courage while he is dishing out brains for Weary Willie here and measuring me for a heart and getting you a pass to Topeka.

(The LION nods his head vigorously.)
DOROTHY:
[. . .] Of course we'll take him with us—(to the Lion)—if you'll come. Will you come with us to the Emerald City and ask the great Wizard, Oz, to give you some courage?

(LION nods his head vigorously)

This scene where they meet the Cowardly Lion is the best written scene in the entire script. In dealing with the mute lion, Baum was forced to write non-verbal stage directions for the lion.  This combination of dialogue and action brings the scene to life, like no other scene in Baum’s script.

TIN WOODMAN:
When we get to town I can do my great act in the lion’s den. It’s a cinch with this boy because he’s afraid to open his mouth and he’d only dent me if he did pick me out for a short order.

This may well be the origin of all the circus-oriented shenanigans in the final version of the show. Note that Dorothy called the lion “Fido,” and the Tin Woodman called him “Nero.” In the produced show he gets a similar name, “Bruno.”

Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman sing and dance “The Merry Go Round.” The lion assists, but only in the dancing. There are no lyrics for this song in the first draft script.

Baum provides no mention of a “Curtain” or any other method of transitioning into the next scene, beyond an inked suggestion that the “Road Through the Forest” scene be presented “in 1 or 2,” theatrical terminology meaning the set would be shallow, enabling the stagehands to set up the scenery for the next scene, behind a curtain or drop, while this one was being played.

Names of scenes from the 1901 script. Inked notes in Baum's hand.

Scene 3 — The Deadly Poppy Field.

Chapter heading from the children's book.
Baum's name for this scene in the first draft script is also taken directly from a chapter title in the children's book—though it is shortened to just "The Poppy Field" in the produced show.

The scene is a “background of brilliant red flowers, showing an extensive poppy field. Female chorus, dressed in stem-green tights, with broad red poppy leaves projecting from their shoulders—leaving their heads visible, with golden stamens in their hair—are grouped to form a continuation of the poppy field, the red leaves from their shoulders nearly touching one another, and almost concealing their bodies when grouped.” The female chorus, sopranos and altos, sing:

Here’s a poppy!
There’s a poppy!
Poppies, poppies, everywhere!
Bright and blooming,
Each assuming
Gorgeousness and splendor rare!
If you tarry,
All unwary
Of our soporific powers,
We’ll detain you—
And enchain you—
So beware the poppy flowers!

The song continues for three more verses. This is a different version of the Poppy Chorus than the one used in the produced show. The music for this first version is not known to survive.

Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Lion enter.

DOROTHY:
Oh, what lovely flowers! Aren’t they beautiful?

SCARECROW:
Buckwheat has always been my favorite flour. Still I might learn to like these.

(The Scarecrow proceeds to pinch the cheeks of the poppy girls.)

TIN WOODMAN:
It’s a good thing I haven’t been fixed out with that heart or I would stop right here.

During these remarks the Lion has been settling down to sleep, followed by Dorothy. The Scarecrow and Tin Woodman decide to carry Dorothy to safety, away from the sleep-inducing poppies, but they have no idea how to rescue the Lion, who is too large and heavy to carry. Suddenly the Queen of the Field Mice enters.

Baum’s attempt to preserve the field mice from the book as the means of rescue from the poppy field is engaging. Unfortunately, Baum failed to elaborate on how the mice might be staged. He must have had some vision for this scene. Probably the Mouse Queen and her subjects would have been portrayed by actors in costume much as the mice (or rats) are in traditional productions of The Nutcracker.

In any case, the Queen of the Field Mice announces she will save the Cowardly Lion. “Once this lion saved my life and now I can return the favor.” The Tin Woodman inquires how she could ever move the Lion. “I have my army to assist me,” the Mouse Queen replies. The Scarecrow promptly responds: “That’s different, Mrs. Booth. Take the witness.” Baum’s now-obscure joke makes reference to Catherine Booth (1829-1890), co-founder of the Salvation Army. The Lion might just get saved in more ways than one.

While the Mouse Queen exits to summon her army and chariot, the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman carry Dorothy to safety. The Poppies sing part two of their song:

Breath our fragrance, guileless stranger—
Breathe our fragrance, sweet and cloying!
Never heed the meed of danger
While our lan’grous scent enjoying.
We are brilliant, gay, enticing,
Gorgeous colorings displaying;
Ev’ry breath of air we’re spicing
While beside us you’re delaying!
Soon will sleep,—deep sleep
O’er your senses creep,
And our perfumed breath
Lead to death—grim death!
If you falter by the way,
If your laggard foot-steps stray
Through the brilliant poppy field
Unto sleep and death you’ll yield.

And people thought Tietjens’s music could get too heavy.

But “heeding the meed of danger,” the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman return to the Poppy Field without Dorothy, who is now safe.

The Queen of the Field Mice enters. “Ah, here comes my army to save the Cowardly Lion!”

The army of Field Mice draw a chariot on stage. "The Scarecrow and Tin Woodman roll the lion upon the chariot, and they push behind while the chariot is swiftly drawn off by the Mice, the Queen following."

The Poppy Chorus sings and dances:

Here’s a poppy!
There’s a poppy!
Poppies, poppies, everywhere!
Bright and blooming,
Each assuming
Gorgeousness and splendor rare!

The Poppy girls sing and and dance two more verses and the curtain falls on Baum's lackluster finale to Act I.

The end of the first act should have been a showstopper, not a gaggle of chorus girls singing a quick reprise, while all the stars of the show are back in their dressing rooms. Can Baum's sense of theatre and spectacle be so provincial that he thinks this finale acceptable? Baum has Dorothy, the female lead, carried off-stage unconscious, not to be seen again until Act II. One can only imagine what the actress playing Dorothy would think of such an exit. Then the two male principals push the Lion into the wings, and they too are gone, the stage devoid of star performers. The audience (and any managers) will be looking for spectacle and excitement—a rousing number, a beautiful tableau, a chance to see the stars shine! Baum's poppy scene finale bodes well for putting the audience to sleep, too.

Now Baum does something unfathomable. He cuts the Cowardly Lion from the rest of the show. Gone. Absent. No explanation. Perhaps he went off with the Field Mice? Maybe he joined the Salvation Army?

Jokes aside, Baum’s dismissal of the Cowardly Lion reveals serious problems with his libretto. Not only is it sloppy, Baum offering no explanation for the absence of the Lion in Acts II and III—but it robs the show of color and texture. The non-verbal Cowardly Lion brought visual comedy to the show, an element almost wholly lacking in Baum’s pun-driven script.

Why would Baum cut the Cowardly Lion? Could he not see that his melding of action and word in the scene where they meet the lion brought the script to life? Alas, Baum seems uninterested in writing stage action, and that is a fatal flaw in this attempt to dramatize The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Baum seems to be approaching the script from a purely “verbal” standpoint, that a playwright only writes dialogue, and lots of it. Baum certainly has the ability to bring his writing to life—his narrative fiction is rich in description, action, and characterization. But he has shown no real interest in advancing the plot of his script via stage action, the libretto instead weighed down with “stand and deliver” dialogue—pun-filled and over-long.

On to the Emerald City. Sadly, without the Cowardly Lion.


Copyright © 2019 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

2 comments:

  1. It certainly sounds like Baum considered the lion a one-scene novelty. His departure with the army of mice raises questions of what might have happened after he woke up!

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  2. Luckily for us, and the Lion, Julian Mitchell will restore the Cowardly Lion in the next script and the Lion will eventually become one of the highlights of the Broadway show.

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