Thursday, July 2, 2020

The Wizard of Milwaukee

I have been compiling a complete listing of every production of the Baum and Tietjens Wizard of Oz, from its premiere in Chicago through the handful of modern revivals. Obviously, it will never be wholly complete, but beyond 1915, productions become exceedingly infrequent.

I am very happy to be able to report on a production recently discovered by Joseph N. Rubin, the musicologist and theatre historian who staged the 2010 revival of The Wizard of Oz at the Canton Comic Opera Company. And most excitingly, this newly discovered series of performances dates from 1945-46, making this the last known licensed production of the original Baum and Tietjens Wizard of Oz, albeit with some interpolations from the MGM Arlen and Harburg score—but since when were interpolations into this show unusual?

The production was first announced by the Milwaukee Sentinel on September 2, 1945: "There was music in the air last night at Siefert Social Center where the Milwaukee Civic Light Opera Co. of the Municipal Recreation Department held auditions for the Wizard of Oz, which will be presented Dec. 1 and 8." The company later altered the performance schedule, omitting the December 1st performance and choosing instead to do both performances on December 8th.

Milwaukee Sentinel, September 2, 1945

The Milwaukee Journal of December 2, 1945, announced:

Players Are Named for Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz, musical fantasy of Montgomery-Stone fame a generation ago, will be presented Saturday afternoon and evening by the Milwaukee Civic Light Opera company at Lincoln High School. Lorna Warfield is director, and a double cast will give the performances.

The Milwaukee Sentinel from the same date also announced the show. This paper confirms that "Music from the original opera by Tietjen [sic] will be augmented with music by Harold Arlen from the movie."

Milwaukee Sentinel, December 2, 1945

On December 5, 1945, the Milwaukee Journal published a publicity photo with the following caption: "Here you see the scarecrow, the tin woodsman and Dorothy, leading characters in The Wizard of Oz, that is to be given twice by the Milwaukee Civic Light Opera Company . . . No use trying to get tickets for the afternoon; it's a sellout."

Milwaukee Journal, December 5, 1945

The production got great publicity. The Milwaukee Sentinel shared a different rehearsal photo (below right) the next day, showing Elaine Bishop as a Court Lady, William Culbert as the Scarecrow, and Ray Sobczak (alternate spelling Subczek) as the Tin Man.

Milwaukee Sentinel, December 6, 1945
The production played two performances on December 8, 1945. In the review of the show in the Milwaukee Sentinel on December 9, we finally get confirmation that this is in fact a performance of the "Extravaganza," not the St. Louis MUNY version or other newly created script.

Wizard of Oz Charms 700 at Lincoln High

The Milwaukee Civic Light Opera Co. offered a creditable performance of the musical fantasy, The Wizard of Oz, last night in the Lincoln High School auditorium before 700 persons.

The delightful take, which has enchanted young and old for a generation, is woven around the adventures of Dorothy and her friends in the wonderful land of Oz.

Dorothy is played by Miss Jane Paradowski; the Wizard of Oz by Victor Wiening; a convincing Pastoria by George Paczena; the Scarecrow by Merlin Griffith; The Tin Man who wanted a heart by Clarence Eron, and Sir Daschimoff, [sic] Dorothy's lover, by Ray Kujawa. Lorna Warfield was musical director. 

The production of the old Wizard of Oz show was clearly a success, and it proved popular enough that it was revived by the company for the summer season at the Open Air Theatre in Humboldt Park on August 17, 1946.

Advertisement in Milwaukee Sentinel, August 11, 1946
The Milwaukee Sentinel reviewed the revival on August 18, 1946:

Capacity Crowd Joins Dorothy in Merry Hunt for 'Wizard of Oz'

An almost capacity audience last night gave itself to the perennial magic of The Wizard of Oz, presented by the Civic Light Opera co. at Humboldt Park.

The cyclone smitten Dorothy, played by Jane Paradowski, and her cow Imogene, portrayed front and rear by Bertram Behrens and Peter Sinclair, arrived zestfully in the Land of Oz, and their adventures in search of the Wizard were as merry as the Munchkins.

The terrible Witch of the North; Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow who wanted a brain and the Tin-man who though he needed a heart; demented Cynthia, Tryxie and all of the enchanted characters of Paul Tietjen's [sic] classic tale, tripped and sang their way through a capable performance.
Milwaukee Sentinel, August 18, 1946.
The reviews  of this Milwaukee staging list all of the major characters from the Extravaganza. I wish there was some information on audience reaction to the unfamiliar characters and subplots. From the photo above we can see that the Lion is portrayed with a human face and walking upright a la Bert Lahr. But neither review mentions the lion wanting courage, while both the Scarecrow and Tinman are singled out for wanting brains and heart. The costume of the Wizard in the photo above is interesting, as it's similar to what the Wizard wore in the original stage show, very Irish looking with a sash across his chest—not imagery from the book or MGM film.

No mention is made of what MGM songs were interpolated into the show. Obviously "Over the Rainbow" would have been included. The penciled alteration to one of the surviving conductor's scores with the Tams-Witmark rental parts (seen below) might even have been made for this production. These notes insert "Over the Rainbow" into the middle of Tietjens's Opening Pantomime music in Kansas.

Penciled notes marking insertion of "Over the Rainbow" into Tietjens's score.

I think it likely the production also used "If I only had a Brain/Heart" for the Scarecrow and Tinman, and possibly interpolated "Off to see the Wizard," too.  They might also have added a quick romp through "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead"—a very popular song from the film—after Dorothy's house crushes the Wicked Witch (Note: I suspect the reviewer above confused Locasta, the Witch of the North, with the Wicked Witch that was crushed by Dorothy's house when he cited "the terrible Witch of the North.") It would also have been quite fun if Tryxie Tryfle had been given "The Jitterbug" in place of "Sammy."

Baumophiles might have found it curious that there is no mention of L. Frank Baum. The publicity evens refers to the show as "the original opera by Tietjens." But it is fairly commonplace to only reference the composer in connection to a show. One generally hears of Victor Herbert's Babes in Toyland or  Lehar's Merry Widow.

I am most grateful to Joe Rubin for discovering this long-lost revival. I hope to find a few more!

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