A Movie Musical: The Wizard of Oz
I attended the 2022 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival and saw the beloved movie musical, The Wizard of Oz. The next day, I was singing songs from the movie, like “If I only Had a Brain”, “Ding Dong the Wicked Witch is Dead” and “We’re Off to See the Wizard”. I had a picture in my mind of Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. Then three days later it hit me. The Wizard of Oz is a movie musical made from L. Frank Baum’s book for children, which is recognized as America’s first fairy tale.
The movie adaptation is a top-notch musical. Music and lyrics by E.Y. “Yip” Harburg and Howard Arlen hit one out of the park with tthe film's songs, especially with what would become Judy Garland's signature song, "Over the Rainbow". On Broadway, a good musical is one where you walk out of the theater singing the songs. Well, the same can be said for movie musicals. In fact, many movie musicals were originally Broadway shows, Damn Yankees, The Pajama Game, My Fair Lady, and, of course, Chicago, plus many others.
Baum’s book may have been a political treatise disguised as a children’s story but the movie is a family affair. The colors are lovely and reserved for the land of Oz. The costumes and sets are outstanding and lend to the great tunes. The songs pick up the pace of the movie as it goes along the yellow road trip to the Emerald City. We watch the journey and come to love those Dorothy meets along the way.
(SPOILERS) It all begins when upon arrival to the Land of Oz, Dorothy accidentally lands her house on the Wicked Witch of the East, killing her and freeing the Munchkins from tyranny in the process. Then Dorothy sets out to find her way home. She must get to the "all powerful" Wizard of Oz in order to find her way home. Getting to Oz is a test that challengers her and the friends she makes along the way. Can the group get what they set out for? Can Dorothy get home?
(MORE SPOILERS) In the penultimate scene, Dorothy accidentally pours water on the Wicked Witch of the West, which causes the evil overlord to melt and thereby frees the palace guards. She has passed the test and ultimately receivers her reward. When Dorothy clicks her ruby slippers and returns home, she is mystified and the faces delight here at her safe return to the family she took for granted. The movie is exciting and exotic with wonderful costumes, sets and props. No one will ever forget the red slippers (an original pair is now valued in the millions). It’s a fascinating tale with a happy ending.
The Wizard of Oz has 20 musical numbers. Some are quite short, but many are full length. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, possible the best movie song ever, won an Academy Award for Best Song of 1939, and rightfully so. Arlen and Harburg were premier composers of the time. Arlen would compose hundreds of songs, including "Stormy Weather", "That Old Black Magic" and "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive". Harburg would write lyrics for about 500 songs including "Old Devil Moon", "Brother Can You Spare a Dime" and "It’s Only a Paper Moon".
At the turn of the 20th Century, several stage productions of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" ran successfully. But the movie remains in our current culture as the best show. So, from the perspective of the twenty-first century, The Wizard of Oz was a movie musical. I wish it would be revived again for the stage.