Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ozma of Oz: A Tale of Dorothy’s Return to Oz, Unlikely Heroes, and Fluid Gender Identities

written by Gillian Heitman, Artistic Director Fellow and Production Assistant for Ozma of Oz

Rough Reading: Ozma of Oz, written and directed by Rob Melrose

zma of Oz is a trip hop rock musical that centers on Dorothy and her quest to save the royal family of Ev from the evil Nome King, based on the third book from L. Frank Baum’s Oz series. She is aided by her old friends: Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, as well as new friends such as Sawhorse, TikTok, Tiger, a feisty chicken named Billina, and, most mysterious and wonderful of all, Princess Ozma.

A theme that stands out is being more than what you’re born as. The show’s use of gender bending enhances this theme and allows for an open discourse on sexuality. Many actors played characters with the opposite gender and there was a lot of discussion of what best served the story and how changing the gender of the actor altered the meaning of the scene. Another way gender is so fluidly dealt with is with the character of Ozma, who describes her childhood as a boy and asks Dorothy if it confuses her. “No, not at all,” Dorothy replies, “I think because I’ve spent time in Oz, things that may seem strange to some people don’t seem strange to me.” Dorothy’s journey is a discovery of self as much as it is a discovery of her own sexuality. Her acceptance and attraction for Ozma shows how we can find ourselves in untraditional places.

Tristan Cunningham as Ozma
Inspiration for Ozma of Oz began when Rob Melrose, artistic director and co-founder of The Cutting Ball Theater, read the Ozma of Oz novel to his daughter around the same time as listening to the music of Z.O.N.K., a trip hop rock band which creates distinctly urban and San Franciscan sounding music. Something about all of those Z’s struck a chord with him and he soon began working on an Ozma of Oz musical, commissioning Z.O.N.K. to work at The Cutting Ball Theater for the project.

Last week, Ozma of Oz received its third staged reading at the Rough Reading series here at PF. It was a complicated rehearsal schedule due to the Thanksgiving holiday, but the cast and creative team pulled through to get a rewarding and insightful experience.

When working with such a large and rich story, one important consideration was how the future production value would determine the development of the show. Would it be better to write for a big Broadway budget or for more of a club atmosphere? Ultimately, Rob decided to write the best San Francisco Cutting Ball version and see where it goes from there.

While the first reading helped develop the songs and music of the show, at the Rough Readings this past week Rob chose to play only three recordings (which were excellently played) and have the cast sing the rest of the show a cappella. This decision was made so that the audience and actors could focus on the lyrics and meaning behind the songs rather than on the musical notes. The result is the audience got a taste of Z.O.N.K.’s musical styling while also being given the time to fully grasp the emotional content, depth, and humor of the songs and characters.

Missed Ozma this time around? Well, it’ll be back in July as part of Playwrights Foundation’s 37th Annual Bay Area Playwrights Festival. So take a ride on a green magic carpet and join us for the next reincarnation of this exciting, new, and uniquely San Franciscan musical!