Alumna Susan Gayle Todd is bringing the bedtime stories her husband told their children to life on stage. Written by Todd, “The Wazir of Oz” takes the classic narrative of “The Wizard of Oz,” and gives the production a Bollywood spin.
The Scottish Rite Temple Theater original tells the familiar story of getting lost in the Emerald City and finding the way home with a simple change in point of view to better represent their South Asian roots.
“(My husband) would make up stories for his daughters, and one of them was Little Red Chunari,” Todd said. “It was sort of like Little Red Riding Hood, but instead it had references to South Asia.”
This first South Asian adaptation by Todd eventually lead to the writing of “The Wazir of Oz,” which she said was a collaborative effort between herself and Austin-based Bollywood cover band Sacred Cowgirls. Pauravi Rana, the band’s keyboardist, said the music used for shows such as this one is taken from older Bollywood music and made appropriate for children’s theater.
“The show feels a little bit like a musical, people are breaking out into dance and sometimes into song,” Rana said. “They sing for one of them from the stage, which is a real feat. We don’t play the whole time, but we try to reflect the mood of what’s going on with some of the pieces.”
The cast of “The Wazir of Oz” is a South Asian majority. Todd said this was done to give the story authenticity, as well as provide an opportunity for children to learn about a culture they may not have been exposed to. She said this is also true of their Latin American and Hispanic Spanish-language adaptations, “Rosita y Conchita: a Día de los Muertos Play in English and Spanish,” and “Pancho Rabbit and The Coyote.”
“Those are really important shows because we bring in thousands of schoolchildren,” Todd said. “People have said that to me a lot about the South Asian shows and about the Latino shows. They’ve said, ‘You just don’t know what it’s like to be able to bring our kids here,’ and they get to see people who look like them being centralized on stage.”
The play also provides an opportunity for parents with Indian heritage to see themselves represented on stage, said Minnie Homchowdhury, who plays Pratima, the stone woman who believes herself heartless. Her role is analogous to the tin man in the original “Wizard of Oz,” whose only wish in the world is to have a heart.
“The parents of South Asian descent who come in with their children, now they feel represented,” Homchowdhury said. “Being one myself, I speak for myself and many of my friends, we have been confused about the way we are raising our children. It’s very calming to know that all stories around the world have commonality, and that we’re all teaching our children the very same thing, just in different languages and colors. This play does that.”