The path to ‘Wicked’ - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

The path to ‘Wicked’

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Posted: Sunday, August 20, 2006 8:19 am | Updated: 3:36 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

It’s hard to imagine “The Wizard of Oz” beyond what it has become over the past half-century: A quaint annual televising of the 1939 MGM musical film starring Judy Garland.

Seen by more than a billion people — “probably . . . more people than any other film,” according to Mark Evan Swartz’s 2000 history, “Oz Before the Rainbow” — that movie has earned a well-stitched place in the fabric of Americana.

Few today travel to the land of Oz by way of L. Frank Baum’s original novel, first published in 1900 and long since recognized as the first distinctly American fairy tale. Meanwhile, most of the 39 subsequent Oz books, written by Baum and others, have gone in and out of print before slipping into the no man’s land of public domain.

If readers have taken a literary trip through Oz lately, it’s likely been courtesy of Gregory Maguire, a novelist who’s made a cottage industry of sorts penning revisionist retellings of popular fairy tales. His first was 1995’s “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” a look at the “Wizard of Oz” story through the early lives of the witches — especially Elphaba, the green-skinned one, painted by Maguire as something closer to a misunderstood hero.

That novel proved so popular it spawned a sequel (2005’s “Son of a Witch”) as well as a hit Broadway musical, also called “Wicked,” in 2003 — a touring production of which makes its Valley debut Wednesday in a sold-out 1 1/2-week run at Tempe’s Gammage Auditorium.

Of course, though “Wicked” may be the version du jour of Baum’s fairy tale, it isn’t the only instance of adapting or tinkering with the land of Oz.

From early stage musicals and slapsticky silent films to more modern hijackings, there’s been an Oz for just about every generation.

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