History is peppered with words and phrases the gay community has used to secretly identify each other, but no phrase conjures an image quite like ‘friends of Dorothy’ and its connection to Judy Garland and her role as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz.
As the Canadian touring production of The Wizard of Oz blows into town, in which Danielle Wade plays the role of Dorothy after winning the CBC reality television show “Over the Rainbow”, her friends Scarecrow (Lee MacDougall) and Tin Man (Mike Jackson) give us the low-down on how this new adaptation embraces its gayness.
“Without giving away too many secrets, my character is quite open about exploring his sexuality,” explains MacDougall. “Our director has taken the sissy idea and asked, ‘What if the lion really is gay?’”.
“The Lion is definitely the gayest thing about the show,” laughs Jackson. “When you first meet the Lion he is ashamed at being a coward and a sissy and when Dorothy invites him to come along with us he asks if we would feel degraded to be seen with him and we both look at him and say no. It’s actually quite moving. There are also a couple of jokes that are directed at our gay audience that always gets good laughs.”
More than an exploration of the Cowardly Lions’ sexuality, MacDougall and Jackson see much of the show’s attraction coming from its metaphorical journey, one that many in the gay community take in their own lives.
“Accepting who you are, finding courage and finding love are all things gay people connect to,” says MacDougall whose personal connection to The Wizard of Oz comes from having met his husband 24 years ago while performing in a different production of the same show.
Jackson comes with his own connection to the show as well, having last performed as the Tin Man in a production when he was 16 years old while living in the Vancouver suburb of Delta.
“My mother died of cancer when I was doing that show,” Jackson remembers. “It is really nice for me to revisit this part because I didn’t remember the experience back then because it was clouded in grief. Talk about getting to the heart; it is pretty amazing.”
Not surprisingly, given his character’s quest and his personal connection to the show, the heart of the show is something Jackson keeps coming back to.
“My favourite scene is at the end when I receive my heart,” says Jackson. “When I receive the heart and realize that Dorothy is about to leave I have real tears running down my face. It is such a real moment.”
With the movie now almost 75 years old, both MacDougall and Jackson point to its timeless story that has kept it as enduring as it is endearing.
“When the curtain goes up you will see three generations of a family and you know that the movie has touched so many generations,” says Jackson. “Every night we have little kids laughing and cooing in the audience and they have this unedited way of being demonstrative during the show.”
“The older gays connect to the Judy Garland aspect, but the younger gays are attracted to its campiness,” says McDougall.
Part of that campiness, in this new adaptation that includes all of the original movie songs plus new ones from Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, comes from one of MacDougall’s favourite scenes: Glinda’s first appearance in Munchkinland.
“It’s gay heaven,” laughs MacDougall. “Glinda has been reimagined with this 60 foot long train as part of a beautiful sequined ball gown and she floats down from the sky. It is like a gay extravaganza and every drag queen will wish they had it.”
The Wizard of Oz plays the Queen Elizabeth Theatre November 5 – 10, 2013. Visit http://vancouver.broadway.com for tickets and information.
A version of this article first appeared in the October 23, 2013 edition of Xtra!