August 12, 2003

Vintage Recordings from the 1903 Broadway Musical The Wizard of Oz.  Hungry Tiger Press (2 CDs).  Available for $29.99 plus $3.50 shipping from Hungry Tiger Press, 5995 Dandridge Lane, Suite 121, San Diego, CA 92115-6575 (

Reviewed by Tim Brooks

This delightful release will be of great interest to students of early twentieth-century American theater and popular song.  Much of America’s best popular music of the early 1900s was introduced in (or popularized via) stage musicals, yet few of those shows have been the subject of their own CD or LP reissues.  Of the hundreds of hit musicals that graced the American stage prior to World War I only Florodora comes to mind as having had its own CD reissue.[i]  Snippets from others can be found in Jack Raymond’s superb set Music from the New York Stage 1890-1920 and Pearl’s Broadway through the Gramophone series.[ii]

One reason for this lack of attention is that few early recordings of stage hits have the cachet of being by original cast members.  Another is that musicals of the period did not have fixed scores in the way that modern musicals do, but rather were “floating scores” filled with interpolated songs unrelated to the plot, which often changed.  These were essentially high class vaudeville shows with loose plots providing an excuse for interpolation of all manner of set piece routines and current hits, alongside a core of songs tailored to the show.

Both of these aspects are on display in David Maxine’s meticulous reconstruction of the 1903 stage musical The Wizard of Oz, and that makes it all the more interesting.  Since no original cast recordings exist (with one minor exception, which I will mention later) these are all renditions by other artists of songs from the show.  And the songs themselves are all over the map, ranging from Irish novelties to coon songs–which is what you heard in the theater.  Close your eyes and you”re there.  Two beautiful little booklets accompany this set, one discussing the show and the records, and the other containing the lyrics.  The layout is easy to read and the graphics handsome, with numerous illustrations from the show.  Hard core collectors will salivate over the pictures of rare record labels.

The Wizard of Oz was staged shortly after the publication of L. Frank Baum’s famous novel, and the plot is similar but not identical to that of the classic 1939 movie.  Kansas farm girl Dorothy and her pet calf (not dog) are picked up by a tornado and blown to the land of Oz, where in the course of their efforts to get back home they encounter Munchkins, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion.  There are also subplots involving Sir Dashemoff Daily, the poet laureate of Oz, who falls in love with Dorothy; a dethroned king named Pastoria who, with his irritable girlfriend Tryxie Tryfle, plots to regain his throne from the usurper the Wizard of Oz; and a “lady lunatic” named Cynthia Cynch who has gone mad searching for her long-lost lover, the Tin Woodman.  All of these characters have featured numbers in the show, and the notes help us follow the action by noting who sang what, and at what point during the action.

The first CD contains period discs and cylinders of Wizard of Oz songs by such artists as Ada Jones, Edward M. Favor, Harry Macdonough, Corrine Morgan, Dan W. Quinn and Collins and Harlan.  Track one, appropriately, is an instrumental medley–resembling an overture–by Arthur Pryor”s Band.  This is followed by such well-known hits from the show as “Sammy,” “Hurrah for Baffin’s Bay” and “Budweiser’s a Friend of Mine.”  The Wizard happened to be from Ireland, which gave him an excuse to sing such Irish novelties as “Mr. Dooley” and “Meet Me Down at the Corner.”  Sir Dashemoff Daily moons over Dorothy with “The Moon Has His Eyes on You,” and Dorothy herself sings such unlikely numbers as “Skating” (about the new sport) and “Under a Panama.”  Squabbling lovers Pastoria and Tryxie Tryfle get such numbers as “Daisy Donohue,” “Can’t You See I’m Lonely” and “Are You Sincere?”  The last named song reminds us that The Wizard of Oz was essentially a parody, mixing predictable romantic verses with nonsense like “If I give my heart to you / I’ll have none and you’ll have two!”  The scarecrow and the tin woodman, played in the show by comedians David Montgomery and Fred Stone, have several comic numbers including “Football” and “Hurrah for Baffin’s Bay.”  If you’ve ever wondered what a song about Baffin’s Bay is doing in a story about the magical land of Oz, the notes will explain.

The second CD varies the source material with a selection of music box discs and piano rolls of songs from the show.  It concludes with related recordings, including songs from other shows by Baum and later recordings by Wizard of Oz stars Bessie Wynn and Montgomery and Stone of songs not from the show.  Montgomery and Stone are represented by their three well known 1911 Victor recordings, which include gags and patter and remind us why the team was so popular.  “A Scotch Moriah” is a particular funny burlesque on Harry Lauder, then in his first blush of fame.  (Montgomery and Stone also recorded some songs from Oz during the 1911 sessions, but alas, they were not issued.)  Also included is the only known Wizard of Oz “original cast recording”–if you can call it that.  It is a short fragment from a 1939 radio  broadcast in which Fred Stone, then in his sixties, performed the “scarecrow laugh.”

The source copies for all these recordings are generally good, and the transfers, by Adrian Cosentini, are excellent.

The producer of the CDs, David Maxine, is something of an Oz-o-phile, and he offers considerably more about the show and L. Frank Baum on his website (given above).  You can even download a map of Oz for use as a screensaver on your computer!  This beautifully produced CD set was obviously a labor of love, and it is highly recommended.


[i]. Opal CD 9835, an English issue, contains mostly cast recordings from the English production.  There were certainly many U.S. recordings of songs from Florodora, as documented in my article on the show in ARSC Journal Vol. 31 No. 1 (Spring 2000).

[ii]. Music from the New York Stage, Pearl CDS 9050-61; Broadway Through the Gramophone, Pearl GMS 0082-0085.  The former collects recordings by original cast members, the latter medleys, principally by the Victor and Columbia Light Opera Companies.  Both are rather expensive multi-CD sets.

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