James Patrick Doyle, born during 1956, the centennial year of L. Frank Baum’s birth, shared much in common with the first Royal Historian of Oz: a love of fantasy, a passion for the theater, and a succession of professions, to name but a few.
As with many Oz enthusiasts, his first exposure to Oz was the 1939 Metro Goldwyn Mayer musical film The Wizard of Oz, adapted of course from Baum’s immortal work. Always one for wanting to know all he could of a certain subject (such as, at one point in his life, immersing himself in research to find out why he disliked West Side Story), he went on to read all forty books in the Oz canon.
But it was a chance remark by a neighbor in 1973 which really fired his imagination and started the ball rolling on what was, decades later, to become his collaboration with Joe Cascone and the Toronto Civic Light Opera Company. An avid musician and budding composer, the teenaged Doyle was rehearsing a violin part for, of all things, his Southern California high school’s production of The Wizard of Oz. The aforementioned neighbor, an elderly woman named Felice Louria, gave her frank appraisal of his performance, likening it to screams of condemned souls in Perdition—or words to that effect.
Eagerly sharing with her the news that he was going to be in the orchestra for Wizard, her eyes twinkled as she spoke the names of David Montgomery and Fred Stone. She then told him about The Wizard of Oz as she remembered it from her childhood, a live stage show featuring those two incredible performers as the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow. Doyle was astonished at the news that there had been another musical version of that story.
In the ensuing decades, while finishing his education, getting married, and going through various means to keep food on the table and the wolf from the door, Doyle went on a quest worthy of Sir Hokus of Pokes, searching for the elusive Baum – Tietjens extravaganza. Not much really presented itself until 1997, when to his amazement he acquired a script of the show from an online source.
He had formulated a plan to present the 1902 musical onstage in concert form, and to that end also managed to secure much of the score, especially once he had been in touch with David Maxine, who had independently concocted the same plan.
Their collaboration produced a new, streamlined version of the Baum – Tietjens script and score, featuring what they considered the best of the multitude of songs which were rotated in and out of the show during its nearly decade-long run. The finished score, coming in at some 600 pages, remains true to the feel and atmosphere of the time in which it was initially produced, while deleting some of the prejudices inherent in it; songs which contained terms that would now be deemed racist (and yet which are still heard in rap music—go figure) were rewritten.