Budweiser’s a Friend of the Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz: Vintage Recordings from the 1903 Broadway Musical – Long before MGM got their hands on it, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz had already had a run as a successful musical, on stage rather than the screen.

In fact, it was largely the success of the musical that led L. Frank Baum to write another book set in Oz. While many people (including me) have criticized some of the changes MGM made from the book, the movie was actually closer in plot than the play, which threw in a lot of extra elements and characters. Oddly, according to the plot description offered in the album’s liner notes, the Wicked Witch of the West, easily the most memorable character in the film, didn’t even appear in the play. Instead, there was a struggle for power between the Wizard of Oz, the exiled King Pastoria, and an inventor named Sir Wiley Gyle. Actually, the earliest productions included quite a few book characters who didn’t last, as they presumably didn’t go over too well with the audience. As for the music, most of it had nothing to do with the plot. Baum and his composer friend Paul Tietjens wrote several relevant songs, but again most of them didn’t go over too well, so the producers just stuck in irrelevant popular songs. Sometimes there were excuses made for their presence (like the hit song “Sammy” supposedly being about Tryxie Tryfle’s old boyfriend), but I don’t think there were even rough explanations for many of the others. So how are the songs? I have to say that many of them are very catchy. Perhaps TOO catchy, as it’s weird to have an obscure song from three-quarters of a century before you were born stuck in your head all day. Probably the worst in that respect is “Hurray for Baffin’s Bay,” a nonsense song full of nautical puns that actually holds up better than a lot of the material, especially the racist stuff. Yes, a popular kind of song around the turn of the twentieth century was the “coon song,” which was more or less blackface in musical form, and there are a few of them included among these recordings. Also to be found are songs mocking Italians, the Irish, and Native Americans. I have to say that I find most of them somewhat embarrassingly goofy rather than straight-up offensive, but in fairness I’m not part of any of these ethnic groups. This isn’t an album you’d put on at a party (not that I have parties anyway), but it’s a very interesting slice of history. The record is available from Hungry Tiger Press.

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1 Response to Budweiser’s a Friend of the Wizard of Oz

  1. Pingback: A Brief Visit to Tir na n’Og | VoVatia

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