L. Frank Baum is best known writing “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” published in 1900. Baum was born in New York in 1856 and died in California in 1919. In between he lived in South Dakota and Chicago. Fascinating choices.
Baum wrote several novels, short stories and poems — and dabbled in theater. His most popular novel inspired a play that landed on Broadway in 1903. Its run was short. But the movie that turned his story into a musical in 1939 (first telecast in 1956) is still a hit today.
The film (available in a special 70th anniversary edition) starred Judy Garland as Dorothy and Billie Burke as Glinda. Its “Over the Rainbow” earned an Academy Award for “best music song.” “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” “The Lollipop Guild,” and “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” did not.
In 1975, a new version of Baum’s tale hit Broadway. It was titled “The Wiz” and it earned seven Tony Awards, including “best musical.” Its best known song is “Ease on Down the Road.”
“The Wiz” is an R & B twist on the classic tale. It transforms Dorothy into a shy Harlem school teacher, a role played in the 1978 film version by Diana Ross. Lena Horne played Glinda, Michael Jackson played the Scarecrow and Richard Pryor played the Wizard.
Valley Youth Theatre performs “The Wiz” June 8-24, 2012 at the Herberger Theater Center. Like VYT’s “13” and “Annie” before it, “The Wiz” will bring impressive production elements to this spacious venue so audiences of all ages can enjoy talented youth performing on a grand stage.
A new Theater League production of “The Wizard of Oz,” featuring E.Y Harburg and Harold Arlen songs written for the 1939 film, comes to Mesa Arts Center and the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix this December. I’m told it includes an art deco Oz, munchkins and flying monkeys — making for a fun and unique way to enjoy some family together time during the holiday season.
Those seeking a more immediate Oz fix can head to Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale Aug 19-Sept 18 for their production of “The Wizard of Oz,” one of many works in their 2011-12 children’s theatre series.
Novelist Gregory Maguire explores life in Baum’s pre-Dorothy Oz with his 1995 book titled “Wicked.” It’s the basis for the musical “Wicked,” which features book by Winnie Holzman and music/lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.
“Wicked” opened on Broadway in 2003 starring Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda the Good and Idina Menzel as the Wicked Witch of the West. Glinda has a bad case of the sparkles and the other a bad case of green. Joel Grey originated the role of the Wizard in “Wicked” on Broadway.
“Wicked” earned three Tony Awards and one Grammy Award. Best-loved songs from the musical include “Popular” (funny), “Defying Gravity” (inspiring) and “For Good” (heart-warming). “Wicked” is still open on Broadway and there are also London, Australia and touring productions.
The U.S. national tour comes to ASU Gammage (for a third time) Feb 15-March 11, 2012 — making tickets a lovely Valentine’s Day option. It’s a charming show for couples, sisters and mother/daughter outings. During previous ASU Gammage runs the show has sold out quickly, even warranting ticket lotteries and such.
There’s a final option for those of you planning travel to London, where a new musical adaptation of the 1939 film opened this spring. This “The Wizard of Oz” features a few new songs, including “Red Shoes Blues,” by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice — known to many for their collaborations on “Evita,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
Texting O-M-G is so last year. Thanks to L. Frank Baum and those inspired by his work, the truly trendy will instead be texting “O-M-O” this theater season.
Note: If you need more Oz in your life, consider reading other Maguire works (including “Son of a Witch”) and stay tuned for a film titled “Oz: The Great and Powerful” due out in 2013.
Coming up: More stories meet stages