"We’re Off to See the Wizard…"

Culture Watch
tags: plays, Wizard of Oz

Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News. Mr. Chadwick can be reached at bchadwick@njcu.edu.

In the movie The Wizard of Oz, a worried Dorothy looked around Oz and famously told her little dog Toto, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” No, but this spring they will be in Arizona, Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Michigan, Illinois. Missouri, Maryland and a handful of other states as the Wizard of Oz, the musical play based on the venerated movie, tours the country to help celebrate the film’s seventy-fifth anniversary.

The Wizard of Oz movie script, based on L. Frank Baum’s 114-year-old book, was slightly re-written by Andrew Lloyd Webber in 2011 and ran on stage for five months. Now it is has been rolled out of Munchkinland for its historic anniversary. The appeal of the movie, based on one of Baum’s turn of the century Oz tales, is never ending. Last year, there was an Oz Disney movie, Oz: The Great and Powerful. Altogether, there have been six silent and fourteen sound versions of the story on the screen. In 2003, the Broadway musical Wicked, based on the witches in Oz, opened and has been New York’s most profitable show ever since. Just last week, 59E59 Theaters in New York produced The Woodsman, which is the story of the tin man in the movie. The Woodsman was just the latest play in a long string of stage dramas about Oz going back to 1902 Television has produced nearly two dozen shows connected to the Oz story. Even the Muppets did an Oz show.

There have been Wizard of Oz comic books, here in America and even in Korea (Mad magazine even did an Oz issue), costumes, toys, board games and video games. There was even an XXX rated Oz graphic novel  Lost Girls, in which Dorothy, Alice from Wonderland and Wendy from Peter Pan talk about their sexual awakenings (2006). There are several more films and television shows based on Oz and its characters that will come out over the next few years. There’s even a dark side, shown in the upcoming book trilogy Dorothy Must Die, which Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion take over Oz and behave as ruthless dictators.

The latest national tour is just the most recent in a lengthy line of Oz vehicles.  On Tuesday, February 25, The Wizard of Oz tour hit Centennial Hall, in Tucson, Arizona for a week’s stay and then continued its trip across the country. Anyone interested in the different national cities and dates for The Wizard of Oz musical can look them up at www.wizardofozthemusical.com.

Celebrations will take place coast to coast for the seventy-fifth anniversary, kicked off on the television broadcast of the Oscars last Sunday with a tribute to the movie by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. A new DVD of the film will be issued this spring and, shortly, McDonalds’s will sell Happy Meals all based on the Oz characters.

The man all the celebrations will hail, L. Frank Baum, did not set out to write fantasies in Oz at all. He wanted to be a stage producer and director. Baum met with nothing but disaster in all of his stage efforts, then ran and abandoned various stores. He got back to writing that he had started as a teenager, when he was thirty-five.  He worked as a reporter for a newspaper in Chicago and then, in 1900, wrote The Wizard of Oz. It was an immediate hit and was the number one best-selling children’s book for two years. He followed it with thirteen other Oz books and jumped into producing stage plays and, later, movies about Oz. Baum a lifelong advocate for women’s suffrage, died in 1919.

Why was The Wizard of Oz so popular in 1939?

1. It was the story of a cute little girl. Dorothy, her adorable dog Toto and the awful circumstances they find themselves in when they land in Oz.

2. It was the battle between the good and bad witches

3. The idea that there is no place like home

4. That wonderful song, Over the Rainbow, that was originally cut from the film because none of its producers liked it, became a classic.

5. The lovable little Munchkins

6. The timeless battle of good vs. evil

7. The superhighway of all superhighways, the Yellow Brick Road

8. We all need friends – the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion

9. The timeless music.

10. Your family will never forget you

11. Our yearning to have heart, a brain and courage

12. We can survive anything, even tornadoes

People will go to the new musical, and other plays and films, because they saw the movie on television (I caught it just last week). Generations of Americans have watched the movie with their kids and grandkids and all loved it.

Why? Why do we love The Wizard of Oz today?

The country is still battered by horrific tornadoes that destroy entire towns in Kansas and elsewhere. We still love dogs, applaud good witches and hate evil ones. We still value family and friends and love home. We all want good to triumph over evil. We are as scared today, in the prolonged recessions, as people were in the Depression in the ‘30s. We still love escapism and embrace the idea that Americans today, just like little Dorothy in the heart of the country, Kansas, in 1939, will always triumph over adversity.

So, on its seventy-fifth anniversary, despite our cell phones and computer grids, we may all still be off to see the wizard…

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