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Celebrating anniversaries of The Wizard of Oz and Wicked

“We’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz!” As some people may be aware, we are currently between two giant Ozian anniversaries. The 1939 Wizard of Oz will be celebrating its 75-year anniversary in 2014 and Wicked just celebrated its 10-year anniversary last month. Both projects are cultural touchstones that show no signs of losing popularity. I will admit that I have not always been able to call myself a fan but have since been converted to appreciate what everyone else has always enjoyed.

Many people share a love of the film and though the anniversary is not until August 2014, plans have already begun in 2013. For one week in September, 305 movie theaters showed an IMAX version of the movie and grossed $557,233. On October 1, the five-disc Collector’s Edition hit stores and includes the movie, a “making of” documentary and bonus features, in addition to a collectible journal, Oz map, three-piece enamel pin set, 48-page hardcover book and a sparkling ruby slippers globe. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will include a new Wizard hot air balloon this year plus balloonheads of Dorothy and friends. Dylan’s Candy Bar in New York City has plans for OZ-themed chocolate bars. These are just a small part of the $25 million anniversary campaign that Warner Brothers is planning.

Why exactly is this film still so popular after so many years? Judy Garland is best known for her role as Dorothy and for her rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a song that was almost cut from the film. This film is part of our cultural subconscious because of its frequent adaptations and references in art, film, television and theater. Some of the lines and classic songs have become so deeply imbedded in pop culture that it is hard to recall their origin in this film. It is a film that has universal appeal for children and adults alike because it invokes nostalgia and childhood memories for adults while still managing to entertain children.

The world of Oz has been explored in the original Frank L. Baum book series, prequels to the film, a recent Disney movie Oz: The Great and Powerful, The Wiz and of course, Wicked. While not initially poorly reviewed, Wicked has proved to be not only a smash hit but a beloved musical. The show sells out every night on Broadway and has brought in over 38 million theatergoers and $3.1 billion in ticket sales worldwide. The show has been performed in 100 cities in 13 countries and has been translated into five languages. The musical has won over 50 awards including three Tony Awards and a Grammy award.

Based on Gregory Maguire’s book of the same title, it is the untold story of the unlikely friendship between Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) and Galinda (the Good Witch of the North) before Dorothy came to Oz. Idina Menzel, as Elphaba, and Kristen Chenoweth, as Galinda (and later in the show, Glinda), became Broadway queens due to their dazzling chemistry. They recently appeared in Entertainment Weekly’s Reunion issue to commemorate the anniversary.

The songs of Wicked have become part of the pop culture lexicon as well. It is not uncommon to see “Popular” used in dance recitals or “For Good” used at graduations. I saw the show on Broadway several years ago. Seeing the show live illustrated exactly why so many people have loved it and why it sells out every day. It entertains new audiences who may have never seen the original film, while still managing to connect to the original story with a series of winks and nods. The audience learns why the Wicked Witch of the West is green and who the Scarecrow is amongst other things.

By seeing Wicked, I gave The Wizard of Oz another chance and saw it for the masterpiece it truly is. I realized my prior ambivalence toward the film was misguided. This film and the musical bring people together by allowing people to relate to the stories no matter what decade they are from or what age they are. They understand what it is like to be the underdog in someone else’s shadow and what it feels like to just want to go home. I love the glitz, the stories and the songs. Both of these works deserve to be celebrated and I am sure in another 75 years, the celebration still will not be over.

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Celebrating anniversaries of The Wizard of Oz and Wicked