The Wizard of Oz, Wicked and The Wiz: 3 Takes On an American Classic | Playbill

Special Features The Wizard of Oz, Wicked and The Wiz: 3 Takes On an American Classic

With The Wiz back on Broadway and Wicked headed for the big screen, you can use this helpful guide to keep the musical adaptations of L. Frank Baum's story straight.

The Wizard of Oz, The Wiz, and Wicked

If there's one story musical theatre seems to particularly love, it's L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The timeless story of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion's quest for what they want most has resonated with audiences for generations, leading to countless stage and screen titles adapted from or inspired by the tale.

Arguably most iconic of those for musical theatre fans are the 1939 MGM movie musical The Wizard of Oz, the 1975 musical The Wiz, and the 2003 musical prequel Wicked. Dorothy and her friends journey to the Emerald City in all of them, but that's the first in only a short list of similarities between the three.

And now, The Wiz is back on Broadway in a new revival starring Wayne Brady, Deborah Cox, and newcomer Nichelle Lewis at the Marquis Theatre (opening night is April 17). Just a few blocks away, Wicked continues its more-than-20-year run and is still amongst Broadway's top-grossing shows—and a two-part screen adaptation hits movie theatres later this year.

Let's take a look at how these different takes on Baum's original handle four key pieces of the story.

Deborah Cox, Nichelle Lewis, and company of The Wiz Jeremy Daniel

1. Dorothy's Slippers

How it happens 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 images—pairs used during the filming of the 1939 movie have sold for as much as $2 million at 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. That makes them part of the film's copyright, meaning you have to get MGM on board to have ruby slippers in a modern adaptation of Baum's story.

The Wiz reverted to silver slippers, or "pumps," as they often call them in this slightly modernized version of the story.

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.

Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth in Wicked Joan Marcus

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.

The Wizard of OzFor 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 1978 film) and the Wicked Witch of the West becomes Evillene. Glinda gets to keep her name, and in this new revival, they find ways for her to appear before that final scene.

Wicked: The story famously centers on the Wicked Witch of the West, here 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, Glinda the Good Witch of the South.

Bonus: It also bears 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.

Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. 1939 Warner Home Video

3. The Songs of Oz

The Wizard of OzThe songs of the original movie, by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, 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 story in the shadow or Arlen and Harburg, 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 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 The Wizard of Oz's "We're Off to See the Wizard" and The Wiz's "Ease On Down the Road."

Wicked primarily tells a different part of the story than The Wizard of Oz and The Wiz, though Stephen Schwartz famously re-set the melody to "Over the Rainbow" for Wicked's "Unlimited" theme in a nod to the iconic tune.

Nichelle Lewis and Melody Betts in The Wiz Jeremy Daniel

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 (spoiler alert) returning to her home in Kansas at the end.

The Wizard of Oz: The movie-musical version famously tinkers 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.

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