The Taft Museum of Art is temporarily closed.
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.
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