The Wizard Of Oz – Made In Manchester!

By Dan Leach

THE ICONIC story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been transformed for the airwaves to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 next week – and it all happened in Manchester.

The rain-swept streets of Manchester seem a far cry from the yellow brick road in L. Frank Baum’s magical fantasy but these disparate paths intersect on Saturday when The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is broadcast on BBC Radio 4.  Why?  Because the fabulous story has been recreated in Manchester.

New Broadcasting House on Oxford Road is home to the northern division of the BBC’s radio drama department.  Scheduled to move to Salford’s Media City in 2012, the team produces approximately 50 hours of output each year (including classic serials, new plays, comedy, and international collaborations). 

For BBC producer Nadia Molinari the week and a half of recording and post production in November was the culmination of years of planning to reproduce one of the most famous tales of all time.

Ms Molinari said: “I absolutely love this story for so many reasons.

“I first discovered it at the age of six having just arrived in England from Italy (where I was born). My first Christmas in England the Judy Garland film was on TV and I was totally hooked.  

“Of course having just arrived from another country the whole idea of finding my way home again was very resonant to me.” 

Coincidentally, this year marks the 70th anniversary of the film and Molinari admits she was wary of any comparisons:  “I was nervous because it is an iconic film for many people including me! 

“But our version is only 60 minutes long and while it has some fantastic original music, composed by Olly Fox, it is incidental music, not “Somewhere Over The Rainbow””.

The radio version has been adapted directly from Baum’s original novel by accomplished theatre writer Linda Marshall Griffiths and deliberately steers away from the film. 

According to Molinari, the shared goal of producer and writer was to provide an original experience for the listener which would turn the heads of a generation brought up on Harry Potter, Tim Burton and Studio Ghibli animation.

And she acknowledges such an approach is likely to crystallise opinion.  “Some people who love the Judy Garland film will hate this version because there are no songs and it’s much much darker in tone,” She said. 

“While others I think will appreciate it as a dramatisation of the book and a piece of work that stands on its own.”

Though fewer in number than their London counterparts, the team in Manchester are proud of their record in seeking to work with and develop northern talent.

Molinari believes having a radio drama base in the North is vital to ensure opportunities are given to those in the area.

She said: “We have a thriving talent base up here: writers, actors, musicians, sound designers, composers; the list goes on and on.  There is a thriving arts and media industry and we make connections with arts organisations across the whole of the North.”

This policy is borne out in the casting of this production: Coronation Street’s Graeme Hawley takes the roles of Munchkin and Gatekeeper; Jonathan Keeble, who plays the Wizard, is based in Manchester and is often seen at The Royal Exchange; and Burn Gorman who plays the Tin Man trained at MMU – though not, apparently, in carpentry.

Molinari also sees Manchester’s special atmosphere as a driving force. She said: “It’s an exciting place to be and a great place to make connections within the BBC and with other organisations across the North.

“It is also great to feel that it is not just about Manchester but it’s about being connected to the whole of the North.”

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday 19th Dec at 2.30pm.

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