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The Inside Story | Oz Visits the Queen City

By Angela Fuller, Assistant Registrar/Curatorial Assistant

 

THE MUSICAL EXTRAVAGANZA

In 1900, L. Frank Baum published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This illustrated “modernized fairy tale” for children stars Dorothy, a farm girl from Kansas. Swept away in a cyclone to the fantastical land of Oz, she and her dog Toto encounter munchkins, witches, and flying monkeys. Along with the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, Dorothy travels  the yellow brick road to see the Wizard—who ultimately  turns out to be a fraud from Omaha—and inadvertently  slays the Wicked Witch of the West with a bucket of water. The novel was wildly successful, so the following year  Baum began adapting it as a musical for adults. Creative differences during production resulted in significant deviation from the book. New characters appeared, such as Pastoria, the “rightful king of Oz,” and his fiancée Tryxie, a waitress from Topeka. Pastoria’s efforts to incite a political revolt  and depose the Wizard often overshadowed Dorothy’s story line. Imogene the Cow, played by a human actor, replaced Toto. Regardless, The Wizard of Oz premiered in Chicago  in 1902, became a smash hit, opened on Broadway, and  then toured until 1909.

THE GRAND OPERA HOUSE

The Wizard of Oz opened in Cincinnati at the Grand Opera House on New Year’s Day, 1905. David Sinton, Anna Sinton Taft’s father and an entrepreneur, invested in and developed several downtown properties, including the Grand, which was  situated on Vine Street between 5th and 6th streets. In the 1870s, Sinton had acquired the building that housed Mozart Hall, a music venue, along with other businesses, including a gym. He converted it into the prestigious Grand Opera House,  Cincinnati’s premier theater until it burned to the ground during a production of Hamlet in 1901. Quickly rebuilt to  resemble the original, the Grand reopened in 1902. It became  a movie theater in the 1930s and was finally demolished in 1975. (Cincinnati’s central business district was once home  to dozens of theaters and cinemas. Only the Taft Theatre, named after Charles Phelps Taft, remains from that early era.)

ESCAPE FROM THE ENCHANTED POPPIES

In 1904, the Strobridge Lithographing Company,  a Cincinnati firm, printed this advertisement for  The Wizard of Oz musical. At center, the scent of poppies, embodied in the musical by chorus girls wearing flower costumes, lulls Dorothy to sleep.  The Scarecrow and Tin Man, unaffected because  they cannot smell, attempt to wake her. The three  are joined by the slumbering Lion and Pastoria at  left, and Tryxie and Imogene the Cow at right. In Baum’s novel, an army of mice carries Dorothy  away from the poppy field to safety. However,  producers of the 1902 stage version determined  that a mass of rodents onstage would be visually unappealing. Instead, Dorothy mumbled in her sleep, activating a magic ring from Locusta, the Witch of the North. Locusta then conjured a sudden snowfall, destroying the poppies and breaking their spell.  Falling snow, rather than rescue by mice, also  appears in the 1939 movie version.


MAGIC FOOTWEAR

In the novel, Dorothy acquires her famous shoes  from the Wicked Witch of the East’s corpse after Dorothy’s house falls on her. Later, the slippers  magically transport Toto and Dorothy back home  to Kansas when she claps them together three  times. Baum originally described the shoes as silver.  A screenwriter working on the 1939 film invented  the iconic ruby slippers, figuring that on screen,  red would contrast with the yellow brick road better  than silver. Neither the magic slippers nor the yellow brick road appears in the 1902 stage adaptation,  so the red footwear Dorothy wears on the Strobridge poster is coincidental

Angela Fuller, Assistant Registrar-Curatorial Assistant

About the author

Angela Fuller, Assistant Registrar-Curatorial Assistant

As the Taft Museum of Art’s assistant registrar/curatorial assistant, Angela Fuller is involved in the planning and logistics of the museum’s temporary exhibitions as well as research and care of the permanent collection. She has curated several exhibitions at the Taft, most recently Built to Last: The Taft Historic House at 200. Angela earned a BA in art history and a BFA in studio art at the University of Louisville in 2011, then completed a master’s degree in art history and museum studies at Case Western Reserve University in 2013. She interned at the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art before joining the Taft in 2016. Angela lives in Northern Kentucky with her husband, daughter, and miniature dachshund.

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