Two weeks ago, I watched a black hawk swirling in the sky, one of his eyes skimming the clouds, the other focused on my little dog Darling. For a moment, I imagined that we like Dorothy and Toto could be scooped up and taken to some idyllic place where dirty politics is a thing of an age gone by and peoples’ own better nature would legislate a pleasant and peaceful world. Yes, you may say “I’m a dreamer…but I’m sure I’m not the only one.
These are terribly intense times and I take every opportunity to step back from Trump updates to read something inspiring, meditate quietly, and watch Toast of London and listen to other comedians. The one dependable choice I make is to return to the fairy tales that fed my childhood and which now nourish my adult. As I’ve grown, I realize the good and bad parts are not so easily delineated, yet there is always a lesson to chew on.
Clearly, one of my favorites is The Wizard of Oz. A young girl seeks to find herself by leaving what she knows, only to realize she was always found and present anyway, back in her home in Kansas. Her lesson though was in part to prove herself by travelling beyond the borders of familiarity.
Author Salman Rushdie, however, saw Dorothy’s journey differently. He was in disagreement with the concept of going home again as he saw home as less a physical place, but as a place we make for ourselves, anywhere. “It is the inadequacy of adults that forces children to take control of their own destinies,” he says. In “Out of Kansas”, Rushdie says, “Over the Rainbow” is, or ought to be, the anthem of all the world’s migrants, all those who go in search of the place where the “dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.”
Perhaps home is literally something we create by virtue of having lived and formed values that we can ‘feel at home in’ regardless of our families’ or our nations’ opinions. Is it innate that feeling …inside of us, no matter how deeply buried? I was thinking of Alabamians who made the right choice this week in voting against Mr. Moore. Something in their heart- home knew what was right, despite the machinations of partisanship building.
In our own city, Dorothy is still looking for answers to make home feel right, this time in the wonderful multi-racial production of The Wizard of Oz at Harlem Repertory Theatre. The show co-produced by the Yip Harburg Foundation has been running for a year, delighting young and old with its uptown, jazzy flair and feminists underpinnings. It has created a warm and hopeful spot in a welcoming city. The show has been extended to June and is playing one day a month, but now like Dorothy, it is looking for a new home. Apparently, producers from Europe and Shanghai are looking to give the show and its Harold Arlen-Yip Harburg magic a home on their shores.
While writing the show, Yip Harburg had one problem with the final lyric. “Birds fly over the Rainbow…why oh then why” … he wanted it to say we, not I; to include all of us in the dream. But I rhymes with fly and why…the word key might have worked...key, we…But then, why mess with something at least a little close to perfect? Actually Yip wanted to say I and you and I, but the producers of the film would only let him do one version.
In this modern take on the story, the iconic Somewhere over the Rainbow is sung, not once, but three times, enhancing the arc of the story. The first time, Dorothy is yearning to leave the black and white Kansas of home for the dream of something more colorful and magical. She is alone and needs to grow. The second time we hear it in reggae style while Dorothy and company are staving off fear as they journey through the dark forest. And last, realizing that Kansas does indeed have its own type of color, it ends with a jazzy optimistic sense of home. Dorothy has realized that she is indeed the empowered leader of her own life and that her pals always had the qualities they thought they lacked…they just needed to realize it…to be more at home in the home we make inside ourselves.
As we in this country face constant division and growing lack of compassion from the ruling party, the idea of a US we feel at home in becomes more and more urgent. In Harlem Rep’s version, the last line of Somewhere changes, using the Yip’s intended version. It’s diversity positive and inclusive as he calls for a world that cares not just for the self, but cares for all of us to share the dream.
If happy little bluebirds fly—
Beyond the rainbow-
Why can’t you and….. I?