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Wicked and the Wizard of Oz

Everything's Suddenly Gone Green

By Gerry Sloan, London, UK

No one yet knows how many people will click their heels three times and skip down Wilton Road to the Apollo Theatre after September 27th, 2006. Box office data will test whether an American musical, Wicked, based on two American stories, can mesmerize London theatregoers the way it has the millions attending productions in North America. The Wicked producers are banking on the universal appeal of their musical, with its references to The Wizard of Oz.

So far so good. The ad campaign, with its seductive logo "Wicked--The untold story of the Witches of Oz," and black-white-green graphic posters have been beefed up for London. Now the witches are peering from billboards all over town. Tickets have sold at an astonishing rate, and people are already heady with anticipation of a smash hit in the making. Everyone loves a smash hit on their doorstep, and news of Wicked's brilliance is well known. London, in recent years, has been starved of big intelligent splashy shows that excite and stimulate. Wicked may feed the hunger.

Yet shows that are smashes on Broadway don't necessarily travel well. The Full Monty and Thoroughly Modern Millie closed early, having played to nearly empty halls. If Wicked is not special enough it may flounder. Casting has not been announced, but the producers are going to have to come up with something special to equal the Broadway originals.

Besides hiring a top level cast, producers have promised a full-scale Broadway transfer, with a flourish of sets and costumes, and this won't be cheap. The question still remains, is there enough of a foundation in Wizard of Oz lore on this side of the pond that European audiences will make take the investors over the rainbow? The show, after all, is not for everyone. "Too American," one friend said. "Too lavish," said another.

The Foundation: The Wizard of Oz

Fortunately, Oz history has fascinated generations of both children and adults in the UK. In March of 1940, MGM's The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland was released here. According to one source, the film, which had played in the USA since 1956, began airing annually on British television in the 1970's. The Wizard of Oz novels by L. Frank Baum have also been popular.

Like all great fairytales, The Wizard of Oz is a classic tale of good triumphing over evil. The Wicked Witch of the West features as one of the most frightening anti-heroines of all time. Her cackling laughter and imminent evil are the stuff of nightmares and endless discussion. Dorothy, the heroine, melts her.

The story also has the structure of a mythic journey: taking a central character, Dorothy, and exposing her to a new world in which she has to overcome various obstacles to eventually reach her goal.

With each new screening a new legion of fans is born. With its beautiful designs, performances, and music, the movie holds as much appeal here as it has in America. It is many people's first exposure to musical theatre. They can quote lines from it; references to the movie turn up everywhere, and many people know the words to the songs. And they still watch it again and again. Many view it as their favourite movie. A colleague recently said, "I loved the movie as a child and I wanted to live in Oz not only because it was a fantastic place, but I could get back home when I wanted to."

A recent double disc DVD of The Wizard of Oz 1939 classic film flew off the shelves, and it appears that we are still as hungry today for Ozian facts and folklore as we ever were. The stage adaptation by the Royal Shakespeare Company sold out its limited engagements and has been seen round the world (of course this was helped by a lovely stage design that set the whole production in an imagined Hollywood land). The movie and the book have been read, dissected and ingrained into popular culture in a way that its original author never anticipated nor lived to see.

Wicked the novel by Gregory Maguire - Glory to the Green Girl

Gregory Maguire's insight was to interpret the wicked green woman's story in a positive light. She was basically misunderstood. And from Maguire's depiction of her early years, the musical Wicked takes off.

Wicked the Musical - Another Twist For Good

As the creative team of Winnie Holzman, Stephen Schwartz, and others adapted their musical story from Maguire's complex narrative with its thirty-eight speaking characters, they condensed and altered the Oz tale. As is true of all condensations, there are casualties. Devout fans of the book will surely miss some of the characters who didn't make it (most notable is Elphabas Nanny). However both versions stand on their own two feet and speak with the voice of their creators.

Why has this show and version succeeded when so many other musicals fail? Could it be that it does not insult an audience's intelligence and whilst offering as much visual splendour as you could hope for takes on the themes of friendship, love, being different, politics, sacrifice and redemption to great new heights? As one person I saw it with said, "It reflects what's happening now." In a world torn apart by people being different, by leaders who don't lead, Wicked on stage is a testament to the principle of following your own heart and having the confidence to stand up for yourself. The show straddles the worlds of adults and children by offering something for all age groups.

For me Wicked offers moments of sheer theatrical bliss such as the thrilling staging of "Defying Gravity" where song, set, direction and performance can raise even a jaded audience to its feet. The musical plays with the audience's memories from the book and movie whilst taking a very modern and innovative approach to its storytelling. It remains on repeated viewings an endlessly rich and imaginative piece of stagecraft which lingers long in the memory.

Those who see "Wicked" on stage never view the book or the movie in the same way again. Not only have the creators and Gregory Maguire taken on an icon, they have successfully topped it.

Success in London?

It seems likely that Wicked has the pizzazz it needs to last for years in London. Even the concept has instant appeal. Go up to someone and say "There's a show coming to London that's going to be about the real story of the witches of Oz," you can almost see people drinking this information in before they go, "That's something I'd like to see!"

Wicked the musical has a very strong story line and it's a very satisfying evening at the theatre. You see these Oz characters develop throughout the evening and not only do you care for them, but you cheer them on. It is a real spectacle and an excellent example of using big production values/technology to enhance a story for the better.

I advise this: Click your heels three times and skip down the yellow brick of Wilton Road to get yourself some tickets. Wicked Tickets. It's a show that anyone who grew up loving or interested in The Wizard of Oz will adore.

Wizard of Oz shop

Wizard of Oz film commentary by Rushdie"Wizard of Oz" (Film Classics S.) This is one of the most interesting film commentaries I have read. It's short and insightful. I recommend it -- Carol de Giere, webmaster for this site.

70 pages. published by BFI - British Film Institute

Wizard of Oz Centennial EditionWizard of Oz: Centennial Edition

Book Description
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is the quintessential American fairy tale but also one of the most controversial children's books ever published. Michael Patrick Hearn, the world's leading Oz scholar, provides a spellbinding annotated edition that illuminates Oz's numerous contemporary references, provides fascinating character sources, and explains the actual meaning of the word Oz.A facsimile of the rare 1900 first edition appears with the original drawings by W.W. Denslow --scrupulously reproduced to mimic their correct colours, using different colours for each region of Oz--as well as twenty-five previously unpublished illustrations. In addition, Hearn provides an extensive bibliography of L. Frank Baum's published work, every notable Oz edition, and the stage and cinematic productions from 1939's The Wizard of Oz to the 1974 Broadway hit The Wiz. The result is a classic to rival Baum's own and a book no family's library can do without.

Wizard of Oz film bookThe Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History All the excitement of the world's most beloved film unfolds in three-dimensional splendor as you join Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion---and Toto, too---on their journey to Oz. Over 50 photos from the classic movie are engineered into unforgettable scenes like the Twister, Munchkinland, the Haunted Forest and Emerald City.

Interpreting the Wizard of Oz

Wizard of Oz DVDSee the special features on the The Wizard of Oz : 2 Disc Special Edition [1939] such as New Commentary By Historian John Fricke With Selected Archival Audio Comments By Barbara Freed Saltzman, Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Ken Darby, John Lahr, and others.

Spritual Journeys on the Yellow Brick RoadSpiritual Journeys Along the Yellow Brick Road

For spiritually-minded people, the book will provide a metaphorical voyage with reference to Ozian imagery.

The Yellow Brick Road: A Storyteller's Approach to the Spiritual Journey

The author recruits classic figures from the "Wizard of Oz" and uses a treasury of stories and experiences to reveal the many roads that lead to prayer. The stories are not only for entertainment; they are meant to invite and provoke.

The Zen of Oz

Drawing upon the symbolism of good and wicked witches, ruby slippers, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and the cowardly Lion, this text offers insight into the journey along the yellow brick road and ten spiritual lessons that are part of Zen consciousness.




DON'T MISS OUR Wicked shop
Wicked the Musical logoCarol's Wicked UK Site. Carol is also webmaster for the official fan site for Wicked's composer Stephen Schwartz

Best Wizard of Oz commentary: