“The Wizard of Oz,” 75 this year, has not slowed down a bit in inspiring other creative works.
You can’t swing a cat without hitting a flying monkey – on screens small and big and on stage. ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” just finished its third season, much of it devoted to the green-tinted exploits of the Wicked Witch (Rebecca Mader); “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return,” an animated, musical film sequel to “Wizard of Oz,” opened this past weekend; on May 28, the national tour of the Oz origin-story musical “Wicked” makes a triumphant return to Sacramento’s Community Center Theater after a sold-out run in 2012.
The rich world of Oz in popular culture predated the MGM musical starring Judy Garland. L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” inspired several offshoots practically from publication. There was a 1903 Broadway musical, 1925 silent film, 13 more Baum Oz novels and several others by writer Ruth Plumly Thompson.
Post-Garland “Oz” works include 20 children’s novels by Roger Stanton Baum (L. Frank’s great-grandson), including “Dorothy of Oz,” on which “Legends” is based. There also was the 1970s Broadway musical and movie “The Wiz” – the latter starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. Last year brought the big-budget, big-screen James Franco prequel “Oz the Great and Powerful.” And there was that HBO show about those nice men in prison.
OK, that last one was not related. But a lot of projects have followed the gold-lined path of the 1939 film, which barely broke even during its initial run but reaped rewards from theatrical re-releases, television airings and frequently repackaged home-video releases.
Oz stories remain close to Americans’ hearts partly because they are homegrown, Roger Baum said. Most other fairy tales originated in Europe.
“This is something we can call our own,” Baum said.
The ’39 movie ingrained itself in the public’s consciousness by airing on television annually during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, “Wicked” producer Marc Platt said.
“Before there was video and DVD, every year people would gather around the television” to watch “Wizard,” Platt said. “It was an ‘event,’ like the Super Bowl is now.”
“Oz” projects also keep springing up because “the characters are part of the public domain,” Platt said. Though Warner Bros., which owns the 1939 movie, keeps a tight lid on movie-specific images such as Dorothy’s ruby slippers (silver in the book), authors, playwrights and filmmakers have access to everything in Baum’s public-domain 1900 novel.
“Wicked” is approaching the 1939 film in juggernaut status.
The play debuted on Broadway in 2003 and remains there. According to Playbill, it ranks 11th all-time in total Broadway performances, just below “Rent.”
Platt said audiences initially came for the familiar characters but return for the distinct world of the musical, which incorporates messages of acceptance with now-familiar musical numbers such as “Defying Gravity.”
Here’s a look at current “Wizard of Oz” offshoots.
Based on Gregory Maguire’s revisionist 1995 book “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” this musical follows young green Elphaba during her college years. Though unpopular at school, Elphaba remains passionate and principled, navigating a friendship with her looks-obsessed roommate, Glinda, future good witch.
Idina Menzel originated the role of Elphaba on Broadway, with her career-making performance resulting in a Tony Award. So if one extrapolates a bit, even “Adele Nazeem” owes its existence to “Wizard of Oz.”
‘ONCE UPON A TIME’
This 3-year-old ABC series began with Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and the Evil Queen a.k.a. Regina (Lana Parrilla) in a town called Storybrooke, to which the Evil Queen banished fairy tale characters for 28 years. But the series has co-opted other fantasy characters from Grimm, Disney (which owns ABC) and elsewhere, and visited Neverland and Oz along the way.
The show’s Wicked Witch, Zelena, was abandoned by her mother (just as no fairy tale goes unturned by “OUAT,” few babies and children go unabandoned or unabducted). The mother kept her next child, Regina, and Zelena is literally green with envy that her half-sister had a mother and grew up to be queen. Zelena wreaks havoc on Storybrooke, but rather two-dimensionally when compared with the complex Elphaba of “Wicked.” But “OUAT” only humanizes its resident villains, like now-nice Regina, not visiting ones.
‘LEGENDS OF OZ: DOROTHY’S RETURN’
There’s trouble in Oz, so the Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man send a rainbow to pluck Dorothy from Kansas, to which she returned after her first trip to the fantastical world. (Some inevitably will see in that rainbow the old “friends of Dorothy” euphemism for gay people, though the 5-year-olds in the audience likely will not). Songs written by Bryan Adams accompany Dorothy (voiced by “Glee’s” Lea Michele) as she finds new friends like Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy), a guard made of fluff, and tries to defeat the Jester (Martin Short), brother to the Wicked Witch and Oz’s stand-in scourge in sis’s absence.