Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reverend's Report: Returns to Oz

Wicked, the lavish stage production based on a 1995 novel by gay author Gregory Maguire and featuring songs by Oscar-winning composer Stephen Schwartz, remains the top-grossing musical on Broadway eight years after its opening and has been a massive hit on tour. It returns to the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles in late November for a month-long run.

Author L. Frank Baum originally introduced us to the magical world of Oz in 1900. His initial novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (the first of 14 books set in Oz that he penned), was subsequently turned into a 1902 stage musical as well as the classic film of 1939 starring Judy Garland. A non-musical (and underrated, in my opinion) movie sequel, Return to Oz, was released by Walt Disney Pictures in 1985 and quickly flopped at the box office. Now, Disney is trying again with a new film, Oz: The Great and Powerful, scheduled for release in 2013. It stars gay-friendly "it" boy James Franco in the title role and is being directed by Sam Raimi of the Evil Dead and Spider-Man series.

Despite attempts by Disney and others to put Oz's ruling wizard front and center, it has long been the saga's women who have captured the public imagination. Whether they be the young Kansas farm girl Dorothy, unexpectedly transported to the land "over the rainbow" by a powerful tornado, or an assortment of witches both good and bad (played by the unforgettable Margaret Hamilton and Billie Burke in The Wizard of Oz as well as Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis in the new production), the women of Oz continue to command attention.

Wicked is no exception. The stage musical, which is also slated for eventual adaptation into a movie by Universal Studios, recounts the story of how the prickly, green-skinned Elphaba first met and befriended the vacuous but saintly Galinda. Whereas the former would become best known in Oz as "the Wicked Witch of the West," Galinda (nee "Glinda") ultimately became identified along with Dorothy as its savior. Maguire's novel and the theatrical interpretation of it serve as potent political commentary, in which Elphaba is revealed as having good intentions while the Wizard plots to subjugate the citizens of Oz to his self-serving will.

The Oz books, movies and musicals have long held special relevance for GLBT people. I believe this is because we identify with the heroic journeys undertaken by Elphaba and Dorothy in leaving home, discovering their self worth and special/magical attributes, and ultimately helping others with the wisdom they have gained. As we mature in the GLBT community, our personal journeys often undergo a similar process.

In addition to the return of Wicked, two new books have recently been published that continue to explore the lessons we can gain from Oz and its inhabitants. Now available is And Toto Too: The Wizard of Oz - A Spiritual Journey.Written by Nathan Castle, a Dominican priest, it has been recommended by Rabbi Barton G. Lee as "of interest to all who ponder questions about God, ethics, and life's meaning(s) whatever their own religious background." And Maguire's fourth and final novel in his popular Wicked series, Out of Oz,was also released recently.

Clearly, the land of Oz continues to cast a magic spell through a variety of media more than a century since L. Frank Baum dreamed it up.

Report by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

1 comment:

  1. They keep promising to turn Wicked into a movie, and I really hope they do. Such a powerful story about seeing things from different perspectives. And the music is great too!

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