"The Wizard of Oz," Wicked and The Wiz: Three Takes on an American Classic

News   "The Wizard of Oz," Wicked and The Wiz: Three Takes on an American Classic
Is it Elphaba or Evillene? With Wicked still going strong on Broadway and The Wiz Live! hitting a viewership of over 11 million last night, we're helping you keep the most beloved musical adaptations of L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" straight.

L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" became an almost-instant classic upon its publication in 1900. The timeless story of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion's quest for the things they want most has resonated with audiences for generations.


With the popularity of the story, it's no surprise that it has received several major dramatized adaptions. The three most prominent for musical theatre fans are the 1939 MGM movie-musical "The Wizard of Oz," the 1975 "super soul musical" The Wiz and the 2003 musical prequel to Baum's novel, Wicked. Though Dorothy and her friends journey to the Emerald City seems to be a constant amongst all of the adaptations, many other details differ.

With last night's broadcast of The Wiz poised for a Broadway revival, we're taking a look at how these different takes on Baum's original tale handle four key pieces of the story.

1. Dorothy's Slippers

"The Wizard of Oz"
"The Wizard of Oz"

How it happened in the book: Soon after arriving in Oz, Dorothy picks up a new pair of magical shoes that are the envy of everyone around her. In the original novel, Dorothy gets silver slippers.

In "The Wizard of Oz," Dorothy's ruby slippers are one of the film's most iconic and beloved images — a pair of them used during the filming of the 1939 movie recently sold for $2 million at an auction — but they didn't actually come from Baum. When it came time to make a big-budget movie-musical filmed in technicolor, the decision was made to make the shoes more colorful by making them ruby red. 
The Wiz reverted back to silver slippers (you may have noticed), though they are referred to as pumps.
Wicked stuck with silver as well, though it manages to get in a nod to the famous ruby slippers by having them glow red when they become enchanted, allowing the wheelchair-bound Nessarose to walk.

2. The Witches of Oz

How it happened in the book: Baum's book describes four witches of Oz, two good and two bad. Dorothy's house is carried by a tornado to the land of Oz and lands on the Wicked Witch of the East, the evil ruler of the munchkins. The first witch Dorothy meets is the Good Witch of the North, who gives her the silver slippers and starts her on her journey to the Emerald City. Of course, the Wicked Witch of the West is the main villain of the story, who Dorothy has to destroy in order for the Wizard of Oz to grant her wishes. When the Wizard turns out to be not quite so wonderful, it is Glinda, the Good Witch of the South who arrives to help her get home at last.

Jackie Burns in <i>Wicked</i>
Jackie Burns in Wicked Joan Marcus

"The Wizard of Oz": For the 1939 movie-musical, the Good Witch of the North was deleted and Dorothy encounters Glinda twice, in the land of the munchkins and later in the Emerald City.
The Wiz: All four witches remain, but they get new names. The Wicked Witch of the East becomes Evvamean, the Good Witch of the North becomes Addaperle ("Miss One" in the movie version) and the Wicked Witch of the West becomes Evillene, while Glinda gets to keep her name.
Wicked: The story famously centers on the Wicked Witch of the West, named Elphaba, whose sister, the Wicked Witch of the East, is named Nessarose. As in the 1939 movie-musical, there is only one other witch in Wicked. She is initially named Galinda, though she later shortens this to Glinda.
Bonus: It also bares mentioning that the Wicked Witch of the West's green skin comes from the 1939 movie-musical, though Wicked adopted this character trait and made it a major plot point. Baum's wicked witch had a peg leg and an eye patch.

3. The Songs of Oz

Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Judy Garland and Jack Haley in "The Wizard of Oz"
Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Judy Garland and Jack Haley in "The Wizard of Oz" Photo by 1939 Warner Home Video

"The Wizard of Oz": The songs of the original movie are some of our culture's most pervasive and beloved songs, chief of which would probably be "Over the Rainbow." It was introduced in the film by Judy Garland, and it became her signature number for the rest of her life. In 2001, it was ranked first on the RIAA and NEA's "Songs of the Century" list.
The Wiz: It must have seemed daunting to try and write a new musical version of the same story, but composer and lyricist Charlie Smalls did just that when he composed the score to The Wiz in 1975. For the most part, he avoided pitting his songs against the songs from the beloved 1939 MGM movie by musicalizing the scenes in different ways. For instance, The Wiz opens with "The Feeling We Once Had," which Aunt Em sings to Dorothy. Just a few seconds after that song ends, Dorothy is caught up in the tornado; the "Over the Rainbow" moment is skipped completely. As in the 1939 movie, each of Dorothy's friends have songs to sing when Dorothy comes upon them on her journey to the Emerald City. However, in "The Wizard of Oz," the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion all sing about what they would like the Wizard to give them ("If I Only Had a Brain/Heart/the Nerve"). The songs in these slots in The Wiz are more generally introductory to the characters ("I Was Born On the Day After Yesterday," "Slide Some Oil To Me" and "Mean Ole' Lion"). The only songs that directly correlate with each other in the two scores are "We're Off to See the Wizard" and "Ease On Down the Road."
Wicked primarily tells a different part of the story than "The Wizard of Oz" and The Wiz, but the latter two use different songs to tell the same part of the story.

The company of <i>The Wiz Live! </i>
The company of The Wiz Live! Photo by Paul Gilmore/NBC

4. Does Dorothy actually travel to Oz?

How it happened in the book: Baum's novel has Dorothy travelling to the magical land of Oz and returning to her home in Kansas at the end.
"The Wizard of Oz:" The movie-musical version famously tinkered with this ending, making the entire journey a dream Dorothy has after being knocked out during the tornado.
The Wiz and Wicked, however, used Baum's notion that Oz is a real place and that Dorothy's journey is a real one.

Harvey Fierstein, who has adapted William F. Brown's 1975 book to The Wiz for the The Wiz Live! telecast, has recently described Dorothy's journey as a dream, so we may get to see another take on the story's ending when The Wiz Live! debuts Dec. 3.

Logan Culwell is a musical theatre historian, Playbill's manager of research and curator of Playbill Vault. Please visit LoganCulwell.com.

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