This week, NBC aired a live presentation of The Wiz, the latest in their now annual tradition of live musicals during the Christmas season. The Wiz, a “super soul” musical adaptation of Frank Baum’s classic novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, first debuted on Broadway in 1974 before becoming a cult classic movie starring Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor and Diana Ross a few years later.
NBC’s The Wiz is just the latest in a long line of adaptations based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its many sequels (Baum wrote 14 books and 26 additional “canonical” Oz books were written after his death). Although the series is over 100 years old, Oz has remained popular due to a combination of its whimsical setting, its endearing characters and a few timeless performances by various actors over the years. Here’s a look at five of our favorite visits to the Wonderful World of Oz:
The Wizard of Oz
Outside of the original books, no adaptation has done more to popularize Oz than the 1939 Wizard of Oz movie. Featuring Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz brought the land of Oz to life in brilliant (and at the time groundbreaking) Technicolor. Although The Wizard of Oz received several Academy Award nominations, winning two, when it first debuted, the movie didn’t become a massive hit until CBS began airing the movie annually starting in 1956. According to the Library of Congress, The Wizard of Oz is the most viewed movie on television and is popularly considered one of the best movies of all time.
Due to its massive popularity, The Wizard of Oz is the subject of plenty of urban legends, rumors and other weird coincidences. Although the movie weirdly syncs up with the Pink Floyd album The Dark Side of the Moon, the popular British rock band claims it’s just a big coincidence. Likewise, the rumor about a dead body appearing in the background of a scene is also false. (The supposed body is actually just a fake bird). However, one coincidence regarding The Wizard of Oz and a later movie was deliberate. Movie makers cast Judy Garland’s daughter Liza Minelli as Dorothy in the animated sequel Journey Back to Oz produced 35 years later.
Several years before she belted out the hit song “Let It Go” in Frozen, Idena Menzel starred in the immensely popular musical Wicked, an official prequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that framed the Wicked Witch of the West in a more…sympathetic light. Based on a 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire, Wicked followed the Wicked Witch (then known as Elphaba) during her university years as she struggles with her newfound magical powers, her unusual green skin and her petty roommate Glinda. Although Glinda and Elphaba become best friends, the two part ways after Elphaba discovers corruption in Oz’s government and becomes a scapegoated revolutionary fighting to bring down the duplicitous Wizard.
Wicked earned rave reviews for its production quality and the performances of Menzel and co-star Kristen Chenoweth. In addition to winning countless awards, Wicked also became one of the most profitable musicals in Broadway history, breaking box office records and enjoying an unbroken run of over 10 years. Recently, Universal announced it would adapt Wicked into a live action musical film, to be released (hopefully) in 2016.
Who doesn’t love when a classic children’s tale is turned into a dark futuristic sci-fi series? In 2007, the Sci-Fi Channel adapted the Wizard of Oz into a four part miniseries called Tin Man, which reimagined Oz as the “Outer Zone”, a land that blended magic with futuristic technology and steampunk sensibilities. Zooey Deschanel starred as DG, a descendent of Dorothy Gale who is brought to OZ to find a jewel that could plunge the land into total darkness. DG learns about her secret past in OZ and discovers that she’s responsible for Oz’s desolate state. Tin Man starred plenty of actors well known to comic book fans. Alan Cumming (Nightcrawler in X2) played a version of the Scarecrow, Ted Whitall (Rick Flag from Smallville) played a version of the Wizard of Oz, and Neil McDonough (Damien Darkh from Arrow) plays the titular Tin Man, reimagined as a brooding Clint Eastwood-esque badass.
Although Marvel’s is better known for its rich line of superheroes, the publisher released a popular series of all-ages comics based on the Oz books. Scripted by Eric Shanower and illustrated by Skottie Young, the Oz books received critical acclaim for their loving adherence to the original source material (even the popular Wizard of Oz adaptation deviated wildly from Baum’s original story) and Young’s amazing artwork, which captured the whimsy and magic of the Oz books. Marvel published miniseries based on the first six Oz books, several of which won Eisner Awards.
Although Fables isn’t a “true” adaptation of any Oz book, several characters from the books play a prominent role in the popular Vertigo series. After the Adversary invaded Oz, many popular Oz characters fled to the “mundane” world and joined the population of Fabletown. Some of the more prominent Oz ex-residents in Fabletown include Bufkin, a winged monkey and town’s librarian and Ozma, the former ruler of Oz who became the leader of Fabletown’s magic users. Dorothy also made an appearance in Fables as a cold-blooded assassin, warped from years of killing witches in the land of Oz. Some of the Fables characters even return back to Oz, leading a revolt to overthrow the Nome King (another character from the Oz series).