Today is the 110th anniversary of the Broadway premiere of The Wizard of Oz. In honor of the occasion, we've made Frank L. Baum (May 15, 1856 – May 6, 1919), author of the original story and musical, our playwright of the day.
Baum was a lifelong thespian. After reading about him, I've discovered that he was one of the original "indie" theatre artists. His practice mirrored that of many young artists today in that he worked full-time at a different trade, he allowed his love of theatre to lead him into debt without it bothering him very much and he wore every hat he needed to when producing one of his own works. While recovering from financial shock, Baum would write short stories and children's works but he couldn't stay away from the theatre for too long. It's a good thing his father was a supportive and wealthy businessman because eventually, when Baum was 24 years-old, his father built him a theatre, thereby igniting Baum on the path to becoming a musical theatre legend.
It's well-known that Baum grappled with the form the musical took, eventually losing control to commercial interests. The story has taken many forms over the years. It was a long journey to Andrew Lloyd Webber's current Broadway version (2011). The liberties that others have taken over Baum's work teaches contemporary playwrights a valuable lesson: our writing is always unfinished and therefore vulnerable to the influence of other artists. I prefer to believe that the malleability of our work, as playwrights, is what makes being a playwright so fantastic. Baum's writing, though re-interpreted many times over, proves that magic can come from reinvention.
To Baum and The Wizard---May there be many more.
See a silent version of The Wizard of Oz: