Last night, we did something we’d never done before in Portland — we all went together to go see a big Broadway musical.
We saw Wicked.
I grew up seeing Broadway shows in NYC every holiday (I lived in Connecticut) and I’ve such fond memories of driving in, going out for an afternoon matinee and then out for a big splashy dinner afterwards. The lights of Times Square, the excitement of the crowd pre-curtain raise, the rosy afterglow post-performance, and ah, the meals afterward! Big, multi-course affairs, often Italian (this was the 70’s after all and none of us were particularly adventurous eaters) which resulted in side-splitting over-indulgence.
I loved every minute of our outings.
My kids have been to both amateur and professional plays, but usually through school and most were relatively minor productions. Outside of Cirque du Soleil, we’d never been together for a huge production show.
Wicked was our first.
It was so fun to get dressed up and all be excited about something that for once didn’t involve travel, food, or recreation. That almost never happens.
The crowd was probably three-quarters women (many in groups) and their excitement was palpable. Just before the show, I saw a couple gals across the street at Keller fountain practicing their WOO (Wizard of Oz) skip and jumping over the rocks in their three inch heels.
The pre-show was a preening peacock display of who had the brightest shoe plumage or the most towering heels.
I even let Charlotte put on her dress up heels; I bought them for her second hand last year when she needed something special for one of her best friend’s bat mitzvah.
Sometimes when the shoe is right, you just want to strike a pose.
So how was Wicked?
It’s everything you’ve heard it to be. There were spectacular songs delivered powerfully by incredible vocal talents, amazing set production, and a fascinating story that turned the Wizard of Oz on its head with a genius backstory.
I won’t spoil it for those who aren’t yet familiar with the premise, but suffice it to say once you’ve read Wicked or seen the play, you’ll never think of the Judy Garland movie in exactly the same way.
But here’s the interesting thing I learned in all of this.
The Wizard of Oz still matters.
My sister who has seen Wicked twice recommended that we watch WOO again just before the play so that we’d be fully prepared. To my surprise, I realized that Charlotte had never seen it, and Oliver had only vague memories of it as a toddler, so I sought to remedy this cosmic oversight.
First up, I had everyone watch it with us in Wisconsin.
None of us had seen it recently and it was so entertaining to sit down and watch it together.
Even the teenagers who were not-so-surreptitiously texting in the first few minutes of the movie put down their phones without prompting and before you knew it, we were all caught up in the magic of this movie.
Laps were shared, popcorn was passed, and I was reminded what it was like to watch something far away on a relatively tiny television. It was sort of charming, actually — and reminded me of how we used to watch movies.
Remember when you only saw a movie either at the theater or when the television networks thought it was a good time to air a movie?
Sometimes I think something vital is lost when anything and everything is available at all times. Forever on-demand means we tend to take things for granted and value it less.
Anyway, back to Wizard of Oz. So we watched it at the lake house with everybody, and then once again yesterday right before the show.
And so, with WOO so fresh in my mind, let me share with you…
Five Reasons Why Wizard of Oz is Culturally Relevant and Merits a Repeat Viewing — and Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know about the Movie.
1. WOO is the original source of so many common expressions and references that it’s interesting to hear them directly from the source.
I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. Over the rainbow. Tin man. I’ll get you, my pretty– and your little dog, too! Lions and tigers and bears – oh my! Ding dong the witch is dead. Off to see the Wizard. Surrender, Dorothy. Munchkins. Cowardly lion.
And that’s just a start.
2. There’s a big difference between original cast choices and those who ended up in the final cut.
According to thoughtcatalog.com, Buddy Ebsen was the original choice for the Tin Man (after being considered and then dumped as the Scarecrow), but had to drop out when it turned out he was allergic to the silver powder in the Tin Man’s makeup — he got so sick, in fact, that he required hospitalization. That’s when Jack Haley stepped in the Tin Man’s shoes (interestingly enough, his son Jack Jr. later went on to marry Judy Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli).
Also, Shirley Temple was a top choice for Dorothy as she was younger and a bigger star at the time, but her vocal chops weren’t up to the task and there were some contractual issues with an MGM picture (she was bound to 20th Century Fox).
Imagine how different the movie would have been had Miss Good Ship Lollypop and the patriarch from Beverly Hillbillies been chosen. Yikes.
3. Visually, it’s still a stunner.
It may have been a commercial disappointment upon its initial release in 1939, but MGM invested more in this film than in any other previous production and it shows. The Technicolor still dazzles and the productions are grand affairs. Just remember — this production pre-dates America’s involvement in W.W. II.
Close your eyes and chances are you can still recall so many of the vivid images scattered throughout: the sepia-toned opening sequences in Kansas, the tumult of the oncoming tornado, Miss Gulch’s frantic bike ride as seen through the blown out window.
I’m only getting started here. Remember — so many more visual delights await. Ruby red slippers under a collapsed house. The fantastical Oz. Munchkin dance shows. Flying monkeys. The hourglass.
It’s all in there — and consequently, all a part of our collective unconscious.
4. The amount of people with fingers in this pie is huge — and some of the backstories are fascinating.
No less than five directors worked on this picture (including George Cukor, Meryvn LeRoy and most notably Victor Fleming who nabbed the screen credit) and and fourteen writers (even Ogden Nash tried his hand at a script which ended up unused.)
Here’s something you may not know about two of the characters of the film (and who are featured so prominently in Wicked).
Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch, was a former school teacher and was just 36 at the time of the shoot. She was badly burned during the scene in which she exits from Munchkinland; despite second and third degree burns (and six weeks of hospitalization and home recuperation), she refused to sue for damages and jumped back into production like a trouper for fear of never getting another acting job in Hollywood. Years later she caught other smaller roles and became an incredible advocate for various charitable causes, and the American Film Institute in 2003 named her the top-ranking female film villain of all time.
Billie Burke, on the other hand, was a stately 54 when cast as Glinda the Good Witch and already had considerable life experience to bring to bear. Once bride (and then widow) to Florenz Ziegfield (of Follies fame), she had boasted decades worth of notable performances both on stage and on the big screen. Her beauty and unusual vocal style ensured roles for years afterward, in television, radio and film.
5. Wizard of Oz is a historically significant cultural artifact.
According to many sources, Wizard of Oz is the most watched film in history, thanks in part to countless repeat showings on television over the years and multiple re-releases on video and DVD.
WOO celebrated its 75th anniversary last year, and the ruby slippers (a women’s size 5) are so iconic that they now stand in the Smithsonian and the carpet outside the display has been replaced many times due to so much foot traffic to the site.
6. Income parity was a non-issue for the movie, and the days were long.
Rumor has it the Munchkins were paid just fifty dollars a week for their long hours of work, while Toto the dog (whose real name was Terry) was paid almost three times that. The hours for everyone were long — it has been said that action on the set started at 6 a.m. and continued up until almost 9 p.m. every night, and temperatures often reached 100 degrees in the indoor MGM set in Culver City, California.
7. Bert Lahr’s lion costume was made of real lion hide and it weighed almost one hundred pounds.
Ensconced in this enormously heavy hairy suit, Bert sweat so profusely in the intense heat of the set that the outfit reeked to the point of distraction. Apparently two people were then assigned to air and spot clean the voluminous costume each night in an effort to make it usable for the next day’s production.
Now wonder the Lion always looks like he’s grimacing. Pee-you!
8. For anyone who loves retro items, rural settings, movie costumes and fancy shoes, this film is a treasure trove of sweet details.
Succumb to the movie and take in all those sweet images.
Gingham dresses. Picnic baskets. Picket fences. Farm house decor. Crullers. Braids and bows. An adorable spunky dogs who isnt afraid to jump off a moving cycle in order to retain his freedom.
And let’s not forget that this movie glorifies shoe fetishism and made every girl from 1 to 101 crave a red pair of shoes of her own. Guilty as charged.
9. The name of the title character was a loving tribute to a beloved family member.
Frank Baum, the writer of the book, christened the main character after his wife’s beloved niece, Dorothy, a baby who died heartbreakingly at just five months old.
10. The Wizard of Oz is the opposite of everything cynical, jaded, and uber-modern today. And because of that, every kid — young or old — should have a vivid memory of it.
We see movies as a family all the time but sometimes it’s just fun to watch an old-fashioned movie with iconic characters, a fantastic journey, and a final heartwarming message; whatever you looking for might just be no further than your own backyard.
Who doesn’t want to be reminded of that possibility?
Been a while since you’ve seen The Wizard of Oz, too? Maybe it’s time to give it another spin.
Popcorn? Check. Milk Duds. Done. Dorothy and Toto? Let’s all bring ’em back.
After all, there’s no place like home.