In the gay lexicon of secret identifiers, nothing conjures an image quite like “friends of Dorothy” and its salute to Judy Garland, one of the most tragic of gay icons, in her immortal role as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz.
A new adaptation touring Canada, and coming to Vancouver next month, embraces the show’s gay sensibilities.
“Without giving away too many secrets, my character is quite open about exploring his sexuality,” says Lee MacDougall, who plays the Cowardly Lion. “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,” Mike Jackson, who plays the Tin Man, says with a laugh. “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.”
MacDougall and Jackson believe that the show, beyond exploring the Lion’s sexuality, captures the character’s journey in a way that gay audience members will surely relate to.
“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 goes back 24 years, to a different production on a different stage, where he met the man who later became his husband.
Jackson also returns to Oz for the second time, having played the Tin Man when he was 16 years old in Delta. “My mother died of cancer when I was doing that show,” he says. “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.”
Beyond the personal connections, a big part of this show’s gay appeal comes from its campiness and, for MacDougall, there is no better example than when Glinda makes her first appearance in Munchkinland.
“It’s gay heaven,” he says. “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.”