There have been many adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s tales in the Land of Oz from the endearing 1939 musical starring Judy Garland to the Broadway show “Wicked” that offered a look at the “Wizard of Oz” story from the point of view of the witches.
The latest look at Oz comes in the form of the new NBC series, “Emerald City.” The series features a 20-year-old Dorothy Gale (Adria Arjona) who is is transported to another world by a tornado. The land is under the control of an all-powerful ruler (Vincent D’Onofrio✔) who must deal with a battle between science and magic.
Most adaptions portray Dorthy as a young girl from Kansas, even when they are played by older actors (Diana Ross was 34 when she made the film version of “The Wiz”). The latest Dorothy is the most grownup version this side of the graphic novel world.
The task fell to the 24-year-old Arjona to play this Dorothy Gale. She sees how her version of the beloved character is different, but she also sees similarities to past portrayals.
“I think this Dorothy is the same base as the Dorothy that we’ve all known but it just goes into a little deeper, little more relatable aspect of her,” Arjona says during a lunch interview on the Universal Studios lot. “She starts off the show being very insecure and uncertain of what her future might have for her.”
This adult version of Dorothy is a nurse who has aspirations of being a doctor. Dorothy sees that future as a thought so big that she can’t even wrap her head around it.
At the same time, her Dorothy must quickly understand this strange new world where she’s threatened by witches, sees the sex of a youngster changed through magic and deals with a Wizard who will do anything to protect the sham of a world he’s created.
Arjona says that it’s Dororthy’s trip to the magical world that puts her in situations that make her tougher and less complacent about the world from her career to her love life.
“It makes her into the woman she will later become, which in my opinion is a hero,” Arjona says. “All of this happens because of Oz.”
To play the role, Arjona only had to look at her own life. The nataive of Puerto Rico grew up in the dazzling world of show business traveling the globe with her father, Ricardo Arjona. At the age of 18, she moved to New York City where she began to study acting. It was that training along with roles in “Unforgettable,” “True Detective,” “Person of Interest” and “Narcos” that gave her the skills and confidence to tackle the NBC series.
“Dorothy’s journey and my journey are very similar,” Arjona says. “I was in Miami and I had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to act but I didn’t know where or how.
“I just packed my bags and ran away to New York, this big city full of so many different people that you pass on the street. The same thing happens in Oz as Dorothy keeps bumping into all of this different and interesting people.”
Arjona points out that the beautiful part of Dorothy’s journey is that she gets stronger by helping others.
How Dorothy’s changed by the people of Oz will be played out initially in 10 episodes.
- 9 p.m. Friday, NBC (KSEE, Channel 24.1)