Iconic Film The Wizard of Oz Turns 80 and Comes to Life on the Forestburgh Playhouse Stage

Who doesn’t love The Wizard of Oz? Its annual telecasts were appointment TV for millions of families from 1959 through 1991, and it continues to run frequently on television today. In honor of the film’s 80th birthday, the Forestburgh Playhouse is bringing the stage play to life all summer on our children’s stage--every Thursday and Saturday at 11 AM starting on June 20th.

The Wizard of Oz

The Film

Based on the L. Frank Baum novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900, the 1939 film is the best-known and most beloved film adaptation. Starring Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz is considered one of the greatest movies in history. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning two, and it was an instant critical success. The Wizard of Oz is also known for its stunning use of Technicolor, then a very expensive process that required the actors to work under extremely hot lights, with studio temperatures regularly exceeding 100 F.

The Telecasts

Although The Wizard of Oz was a critical smash, it was only moderately successful in its initial theatrical run. It picked up new fans with theatrical rereleases in 1949 and 1955, but it wasn’t until the burgeoning new medium of television that The Wizard of Oz became the true fan favorite it is today.

The first telecast was in 1956, when it was shown as the last installment of an anthology and hosted by film actor Bert Lahr, who played the Cowardly Lion. It was rebroadcast in 1959, and every year thereafter through 1991 (except 1963). In the early years, it was always a hosted event, though this ended with a 1968 move from CBS to NBC. The film is still frequently shown on TV today, but since moving to cable, it is broadcast throughout the year and is no longer an annual tradition.

As the magical color transition from Kansas to Oz is a key part of the film, The Wizard of Oz has always been broadcast in color, despite the fact that 1950s households very rarely owned color TVs. The exception was 1961, when the film’s sponsors declined to pay CBS extra for a color telecast.

So beloved was this annual tradition that in 1961, there was public outcry in Milwaukee when the local affiliate chose to air the Packers game rather than the film. Due to backlash, the affiliate got special permission to run the movie on Christmas Eve instead. In 1978, a computer malfunction at the Chicago affiliate accidentally replaced 42 seconds of the final minute of the film with commercials. The phone lines were jammed with complaints, and numerous letters were written to the local newspapers.

The Musical

The first person to adapt The Wizard of Oz for the stage was L. Frank Baum himself. His version opened in 1902 in Chicago, ran on Broadway the following year, and then toured for nine years. Numerous adaptations have been made since, including the 1942 version, first presented by the St. Louis Municipal Opera, which sticks closely to the novel but adds touches from the film and several new characters, and the 1987 Royal Shakespeare Company version, which is a more faithful recreation of the film. Both are frequently mounted at community theaters around the world.

In 2011, legendary musical theater duo Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice reunited to create a brand-new adaptation that debuted on London’s West End. The show tours periodically, as does the 1987 version, so time will tell which ultimately proves most popular. One thing is clear, though. Eight decades after it came to life on the big screen, The Wizard of Oz continues to endure as one of the most heartwarming family tales of all time.

Ready to Have Some Fun?

Experience the next top 10 musicals at the Forestburgh Playhouse! Our 2019 Season is filled with winning productions--some you may have never seen before!  If you and your family are ready to enjoy the oldest continuously operating professional summer theatre in New York State, contact the Forestburgh Playhouse today at 845-794-1194 for more information or to buy tickets.