Wednesday, February 10, 2016

OzBusters! Libraries and Oz

It's been widely reported that a number of libraries refused to stock the Oz books. As Eric Gjovaag says...
Some librarians just didn't stock long series of books, because of the expense and shelf space. Others unfairly linked Baum with poor writing, or didn't like some of the messages conveyed in the books. Some even thought that fantasy was bad for children to read. And it didn't help that Reilly and Lee was not a big publishing house, able to generate enough publicity and interest for libraries to want to carry them. (Most of the recommended reading lists that libraries used to select books were compiled by the big publishing houses, who ignored the Oz books because they didn't publish them.)
 Recently, The Baum Bugle editor in chief and Oz bibliophile Craig Noble mentioned that he wasn't sure about the supposed lack of Oz books in libraries given how many library binding editions of the Oz books he'd found.

While this does raise an interesting point, I think I've found an explanation.

The library binding editions seem to date after the 1960s, when Reilly & Lee were bought up by a bigger publishing company, Henry Regnery (later Contemporary Books, now part of McGraw-Hill).

A library binding was usually not as ornate as the mass market editions. These were bound on usually thicker and more sturdy boards that would stand up to heavier use. They'd have minimal or simplified printing or stamping designs on the covers and also usually didn't have a dustjacket. In more recent years, this has been abandoned and libraries stock mass market editions.

I haven't personally seen any of the library editions, but the ones I've seen pictures of from collectors who pick them up seem to be rebound versions of the famous "White Editions" from the 1960s and 1970s. These editions reworked the layouts of the original editions into new, uniformly elaborate editions that were also wholly in black and white inside. Since prior editions used colored cloths in binding and these used white cover boards with color printing on them, they were nicknamed "White Editions" by fans and collectors.

Given Eric's statement, and the fact that most library editions I've seen pictured seem to be based on the White Editions, I'd guess that unlike before, being part of a bigger publisher, the Oz books could now be printed in big enough numbers to offer library editions and be available to libraries at reasonable costs.

This was about the same time that the earliest generations of Oz fans were now able to write their own respectable opinions on why the Oz books were worthy literature, so the timing couldn't have been better!

I'm working on a good bit of speculation here, though, so if you think I'm missing a point here or missing some other factors or am totally off the mark, go ahead and leave a comment!

EDIT: Well, less than an hour later, Craig contacted me about library editions, including showing several of his own library editions of Thompson titles which were not part of the White Editions line and were available for sale. So while Henry Regnery may have helped in production numbers, Reilly & Lee were producing such editions before they became part of that company.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

My "Return To Oz" FAN COMIC - Two Versions

Disney's "Return to Oz" has had a couple of comic treatments: the official Disney paperback comic and the Sunday Strips (which have yet to be seen more of).

 In mid 2009, I came up with the idea to do my own comic of it (because, after a time, I found I didn't really like the official comic): an "elaborate" 3-part fan comic that told almost the entire story, but also added in the Deleted Scenes as well as a few variations of scenes, from my own thoughts or illustrating those from Joan D Vinge's movie novel.

At the end of 2009, I had completed Part 1.
 By June 2010, I had completed and uploaded the remaining two parts, entirely on Photobucket, for its 25th Anniversary:

When I started having computer problems in October 2013, I decided to get back into the comics and revise it for the upcoming 30th Anniversary.

While the "Photobucket" version had all been in pencil and rough, this new "Revision" would be Inked, with spare use of colour.
But as before, I used the same pages I did the first time, recycling and reusing the sheets so that when you turned them over, it was almost like a real comic with words and images on both sides.

This involved a lot more detail and serious consideration to be better than before. There were some pages I had done I just could NOT LOOK AT!! It would also allow me to redo and fix up mistakes I had let in before.

It was much harder this time around, often frustrating and lonely because no one else could do this the way I could ... and as it usually happens, other people and things would occupy you from your work.

But finally, even though the date June 21st had long gone, I was finishing the comic, had added more pages ... and became the first thing I shared as my new profile on DeviantArt:

It is amazing to see these two side by side. Were it not for such similarities, they could almost be considered done by different people.

There are differences between the two: quantity, detail, spare use of colour ... and there are similarities too: black-and-white telling, the pacing and telling.

I am glad to have this work done and (although I'm still editing the pages' descriptions on DeviantArt) can now move onto other projects that may need me to draw, Oz or otherwise . . .
. . . but I will always be happy to talk about my adaptation!

Thursday, February 04, 2016

I went to see Wicked!

Last night, the people of Springfield, Missouri had their first chance to see the musical Wicked without traveling to another city. Which was surprising to me as we haven't even gotten Phantom of the Opera as it was supposedly too complicated for the Juanita K. Hammons Hall to stage.

I—of course—went.

Wicked (sometimes subtitled The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz) is loosely based on Gregory Maguire's Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. That novel offers a dark new take on Oz, re-examining the themes of good and evil through the eyes of the Wicked Witch of the West. Maguire largely built his take on Oz around Baum's original book, but his Wicked Witch is basically MGM's with green skin, flying on a broom, and a penchant for black clothes.

Wicked the musical rebuilds their Oz around the framework of the MGM movie, but just enough to not get sued. The plot is similar enough to some extents: Elphaba had a bad family life and had a disabled sister (Nessarose has no arms in the novel, in the musical, she is unable to walk), Glinda and Elphaba met at school, where they room together, Elphaba takes an interest in the rights of Animals (capital A indicates speech and humanoid sentience), they meet a Winkie prince named Fiyero Tigelaar at school, the girls visit the Emerald City and have an audience with the Wizard and the girls part ways afterward, Elphaba becomes involved with Fiyero, she takes his western castle of Kiamo Ko, the origins of Dorothy's three friends are hinted at (or in some cases, spelled right out), and the events of Baum's famous story occur, though there's more that we didn't see from his perspective.

The alterations make a more light-hearted and simpler story, one that has made the show a hit on Broadway for about thirteen years.

The Time Dragon Clock frames the stage and much of the scenery seems to be set inside the clock. The clock is referred to in dialogue once, but never again. One who has read the novel could interpret this as the clock itself showing the entire story and the cast depicting the puppets who appear inside it to tell its mysterious tales. Given the transformation sequences of the show in which the scenes change while characters from the previous scene who are not supposed to be in next scene are still onstage for a moment, I'd think this is likely supposed to be the case.

Of course, I need to mention the songs. Like any good musical, the tunes are well-done and enhance the story. They most often do not move the story along, however. But one might well find themselves singing songs like, "No One Mourns The Wicked," "Popular," "One Short Day," "Defying Gravity," and "For Good."

The story follows Elphaba and Glinda through school, being accidentally put together as roommates at first, and having a severe loathing of each other until a couple selfish actions from Glinda are misinterpreted by Elphaba as an offer of friendship, which she decides to accept. The girls put their differences aside and become fast friends until they both realize that the government of Oz are favoring human people over Animals and stripping their rights and the Animals are losing their speech. Elphaba and Glinda go to the Emerald City to meet with the Wizard, and once they see him for who he is, their paths split again. The events of Act II show how bad things get as events begin to crossover with the story of The Wizard of Oz, which eventually force Elphaba and Glinda to meet again.

Overall... I liked it. I can't say that I was particularly impressed as I'd seen bootleg videos of the show before, seen the script and heard the songs several times. While I was finally seeing it live properly, most of the action was familiar to me. (And to the girl sitting next to me who didn't turn her phone off or keep it put away, you didn't help.)

Wicked plays well with the theatrical nature of Oz with over the top characters and a lot of good energy and spectacle, even if it's a version of Oz that really should be evaluated on its own rather than seen as a companion to a book or a film. (Despite the creators' claims to not contradict the movie, I find the Wizard's final scene to be pretty incompatible with the film's events.) Fans of Baum's books should keep a careful eye on the stage during "One Short Day" to see a Denslow picture actually reworked into a prop, and a cameo of the Hammerheads. I've heard the Sawhorse makes a cameo, but I failed to spot him.

I found most of the cast to be well-acted, particular Amanda Jane Cooper as Glinda and Jake Boyd as Fiyero. Emily Koch's Elphaba did not have much subtlety or nuance about her, often just sounding angry. However, she was very good in "For Good," "No Good Deed," and "As Long As You're Mine."

Overall, I'd say Wicked is a musical that every Oz fan should see at least once. Whether they like it or not is up to them.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Royal Podcast of Oz: A Tribute to Rob Roy MacVeigh

The 100th episode of The Royal Podcast of Oz​ is a tribute to the late Rob Roy MacVeigh. Sam Milazzo​ and Jared Davis briefly discuss what they know about Rob's never-realized animated film version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Then Eric P Gjovaag​, Karyl Carlson​ and Marilyn Carlson share their memories of Rob, followed by David Maxine​ and a brief word from Eric Shanower​. Then Garrett Kilgore​ reads a number of anecdotes about Rob from some of his friends.

You can listen, download and subscribe at the podcast site or use the player below.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Rob Roy MacVeigh, mid 1980s (photo by Peter Hanff)

The Wiz Live: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Over the past couple months, we very excitedly posted about NBC's The Wiz Live and enthusiastically reviewed it and the merchandise that followed it. And while I don't regret doing that, I do have to admit, we kind of glossed over some of the problems noticed in the production. This was more so as not to spoil some of these details for anyone who hadn't seen them yet, not to lie about them.

However, the time for bringing up these up is here, so just remember, I did like it, the following is not saying the production is inherently bad, in fact, I still enjoy it and find it more enjoyable than Diana Ross crying about her dog and introversion for 134 minutes.

Dorothy wants to go home to... Omaha?
Harvey Fierstein said he wanted to strengthen Dorothy's character and clarify what happened to her parents. L. Frank Baum's original book simply says that Dorothy was an orphan and although he later clarified that Uncle Henry was Dorothy's blood relative, he didn't dwell on it much. Fierstein has Aunt Em say that she's the older sister of Dorothy's mother, eliminating Uncle Henry from The Wiz Live. (Not a major loss as Uncle Henry's presence in the original version of The Wiz amounted to a few lines of dialogue.) She further says Dorothy's parents were killed in an accident and that they lived in an aparment. Dorothy, having moved away from her old school and friends, feels dissatisfied with Kansas and wants to go back to Omaha.

However, rather than have Dorothy try to suggest to Aunt Em that she sell the farm and they move there together, Fierstein just had Dorothy want to go back to Omaha. For what? Since they lived in an apartment, Dorothy would likely find a locked door or another family living there. Where would she stay? Yes, her old friends are there, but it's also 2015, she can keep up with them on Facebook.

This alteration makes Dorothy say she wants to go to Omaha rather than Kansas when she meets Addaperle and the Wiz, but when the Wiz leaves in her balloon, Dorothy decides that she does need to go to Kansas, not Omaha. Which doesn't make much sense under a critical eye as the Wiz might wind up in either or neither place when she leaves Oz, and in any case, getting back to America, Dorothy would be able to get a bus home to Kansas much more easily than she could from Emerald City.

The Wiz is a woman!
When it was announced that Queen Latifah would be playing the Wiz—a role that has traditionally been male—some fans had a knee-jerk negative reaction. There's some concern about why the gender matters: the Wizard is a vulnerable male character while Dorothy, the Good Witches and even the Wicked Witch are all empowered female characters. Making the character female means you break that switch and turn the Wizard into an all-too-common vulnerable female.

However, this is The Wiz. While the Wizard has a moment of weakness in the original play—highlighted by the song "Who Do You Think You Are?"—but as he explains his story and gives Dorothy's friends their gifts and sings his own version of "Believe In Yourself" to them, he builds up his own strength of character again. This, with a female character, would be quite palatable.

However, Fierstein decided to change the Wiz's backstory (and neither song was used in The Wiz Live), and reveal she got into the balloon to get away from her abusive partner, a magician she assisted. Her exit from Oz was intended for her to go back and face him. Except I disagree with that. When you leave an abusive relationship, you don't owe your abuser anything. She has nothing she needs to go back to, while in Oz, she's the ruler of the fabulous Emerald City, where she could go out now without fear of the Wicked Witches and vogue away with the citizens to her heart's content. (Or, as Mari Ness suggested, become friends with those pretty poppy girls.)

"We Got It"
The Wiz Live featured a new song, written specifically for it titled "We Got It." The point of this song would be for Dorothy and her friends to band together as they go to defeat Evilene. The thing is, haven't we already seen these characters bond in the Kalidah and Poppy scenes and every reprise of "Ease On Down The Road?" It felt like a forced addition, suddenly making Dorothy's friends attempt to abandon her.

I'm sure other fans could come up with other issues they had with The Wiz Live. Certainly, one thing I would have preferred is if they could have gotten someone to really belt "No Bad News" rather than Mary J. Blige just singing it. Some would have preferred that they would have just stuck to the original script. Some probably would have preferred different casting, different costumes and sets, different choreography, even an attempt to completely recreate the original Broadway show from 1975 for TV. But, this is subjective and many people will have a different opinion on what should have been done differently.

For this blog, I've simply cut it to the issues I think are most valid, where the attempts at an update didn't really work out as much as they would have liked. Unlike NBC's other live musicals, however, The Wiz Live is expected to move to Broadway, where they can attempt to fix what didn't quite work out. Let's hope they do.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

THE WIZ LIVE DVD and Soundtrack CD

Well, now that The Wiz Live! has happened and is done with (aside from its expected relocation on Broadway), how can we enjoy it now?

Well, as of today, the DVD is out, giving Oz fans a physical copy to have on their shelves.

The DVD isn't quite how viewers on December 3 saw the production as some botched camera angles and sound mixing have been corrected between the live broadcast and when the DVD went to press. Most importantly, Dorothy now clicks her heels three times. (In my review of the broadcast, I mentioned that the camera caught only one and a half clicks.)

The DVD is a pretty plain affair, opening on a simple menu that lets you select either playing The Wiz Live or the lone bonus feature, The Making of the Wiz Live. There is no chapter selection menu, subtitles or closed captions. (Digital video versions that support captions/subtitles include them, so Universal missed a beat.) I don't suppose there's many other bonus features that should have been added, unless they wanted to add at least some of the several TV spots that aired to promote it, or the introduction with Queen Latifah that aired in front of the broadcast. (There were several interviews with the cast and crew, but there may have been licensing issues when it came to including these.)

There are chapter breaks, most of them where the commercial breaks happened. The first one occurs right after the Tornado segment as lights come up in Munchkin Country.

It appears that The Making of the Wiz Live has been altered after its initial broadcast. The original broadcast contained clips from The Wiz on Broadway in 1975 and The Wiz movie. Now it only contains stills.

Lack of chapter menu and subtitles aside, the only major disappointment with this disc is that it's only on DVD, no Blu-Ray has been announced. Watching it on my computer, the image looked rather soft and some of the finer details blurred, which is what happens when you're limited to 480p. This is a fine look for DVD, but I know I'm not alone in wishing Universal would revisit this one on Blu-Ray with a nice 1080p encode so we can see it in full quality. They could also add in the subtitles as well.

I'd recommend any Oz/Wiz collector pick up the soundtrack album as well. It's available on CD and digital, with a nice booklet offering an appreciation of The Wiz, a synopsis of the show, the complete lyrics of all the songs on the album, complete credits for the album, and lots of photos. This booklet would make a nice companion for the DVD, but unfortunately, no one (except Criterion) does booklets for DVDs anymore.

The tracks are not culled from the broadcast, but studio-recorded. When we first saw the track listing, I noted it was very similar to the Original Broadway Cast Recording album.

  1. Prologue
  2. The Feeling We Once Had
  3. Tornado
  4. He's the Wizard
  5. Soon As I Get Home
  6. You Can't Win
  7. Ease On Down The Road
  8. Slide Some Oil To Me
  9. Mean Ole Lion
  10. Be A Lion
  11. So You Wanted To See The Wizard
  12. What Would I Do If I Could Feel
  13. We Got It
  14. Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News
  15. A Brand New Day
  16. Y'all Got It
  17. Believe in Yourself
  18. Home (same as the single track released in late November)
Yeah, take out "We Got It," swap out "You Can't Win" for "I Was Born On The Day Before Yesterday" and change the name of "A Brand New Day" to "Everybody Rejoice," and it'd be identical to the Original Broadway Cast album's listing.

I wonder if that was intentional, particularly as just as the OBC album mashed the last two versions of "Ease On Down the Road" together to make a new 2-verse version, and this new album uses that same arrangement. This verse isn't present on the album:
'Cause there may be times
When you think you lost your mind
And the steps you're takin'
Leave you three, four steps behind
You just keep on keepin'
On the road that you choose
Don't you give up walkin'
'Cause you gave up shoes,
 Overall, if you loved the songs as they were heard in the broadcast or the DVD, you'll love being able to play them on their own.

I do, however, wish they'd included more of the music. There was no need to cut "Ease On Down The Road" to one version, because with digital and CD, there was no limit on how long the album needed to run, unlike the Original Broadway Cast album. Well, CDs do hold up to 80 minutes. The tracks here have a running time of 48 minutes and 28 seconds, meaning there'd have been room for, at the very least, the music heard in the Emerald City scene or the Poppy scene.

Even with my quibbles, I'd recommend both the DVD and CD to fans of The Wiz! Unless you're reading this at a time when Universal has released it to Blu-Ray. Then definitely get the Blu-Ray instead of the DVD.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The "Legends of Oz" Could Return After All

Last year, Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, the first in a planned series of animated feature films based on Roger S. Baum's Oz books, impressed neither critics nor audiences. With an 18% on Rotten Tomatoes and a total worldwide gross of just $18.7 million (against a reported budget of at least $70 million), the film was, quite frankly, a flop. I've recently learned, however, that we may not have seen the last of the Legends of Oz franchise despite the failure of its first entry...

Conceptual artwork for
Star Guardians
Though Dorothy's Return was released as the first and only film from production company Summertime Entertainment, funding for the project was actually achieved over the span of eight years by investments in Dorothy of Oz, LLC; Emerald City of Oz, LLC; and Alpine Pictures, LLC. As Dorothy's Return was nearing completion, Summertime began developing a separate franchise, Star Guardians, which was to be funded by investments in Star Team, LLC. It now seems that all four of these entities have now been combined with something called Stereo Vision Entertainment, Inc. to create a "new, publicly traded company" called Inspirational Vision Media, LLC that plans to "launch marketing campaigns, call centers, and a P&A fund to promote IVM and SVE and to produce their stand-alone LLC film projects."

One of these film projects is what appears to be a second entry in the Legends of Oz film franchise, vaguely referred to in Inspirational Vision Media's joint venture plan (which you can read in its entirety here) several times as Back to Oz and once as Return to Oz. Per this plan shared with investors in the aforementioned LLCs, the newly formed company is looking to further exploit the Oz brand by releasing a new film with a "four wall, multi-media" marketing strategy that might also include apps and television projects. Because the wording in this plan is so vague, it is also possible that instead of (or even in addition to) producing a second Legends of Oz film, the company is simply planning to re-release the first film in some way, maybe even under a different title in an effort to "re-launch" the franchise. Either way, I think it's interesting that there is an effort being made to keep the Legends of Oz franchise alive (and to finally "generate earnings for the investors").

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return
executive producer Greg Centineo
Interestingly, none of the key players from the first film are mentioned in either the press release or in the joint venture plan. While Summertime Entertainment is all but confirmed to have been disbanded (or perhaps more accurately, a-bandoned), it is unclear if or how any of its founders and producers, such as Ryan Carroll, Roland Carroll, Bonne Radford, and Greg Centineo, will be involved in the franchise moving forward. I can't find anything online, however, to suggest that they've parted ways and are working on other projects. In fact, the only one of these four players that seems to be doing anything right now is Greg Centineo, who is one of the founders of Pulse Evolution Corporation, the "digital human animation studio" that created the hologram performances of Michael Jackson for the Billboard Music Awards last year and of Tupac for the Coachella Music Festival a couple of years earlier. Greg has also formed something called Tradition Studio, which supposedly produces "family-focused features" and houses "a state-of-the-art animation studio."

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return took almost eight years to make from development to release and failed to make back its budget despite a roster of "name" voice talent, a wide theatrical release, a decent marketing campaign, and a number of licensing deals and merchandise tie-ins; so personally, I'm not sure at this point if it's worth the effort or even possible to save the franchise, especially since IVM's plan suggests raising an additional $100 million from investors to do so. I guess time will tell if anything substantial comes from the forming of this company and if/how its plans for Legends of Oz materialize.

I'm curious, though, what do you think? Are you interested in seeing the Legends of Oz return, and, if so, how would you like to see the franchise move forward? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Shanice Williams Beats the Wiz

The Wiz Live! - The latest of NBC's live stage productions was also the first one I've seen. I hadn't seen The Wiz on stage before, but I did watch the rather bizarre movie version, see a review of the songs in Central Park earlier this year, and listen to the original cast recording. Not all of the original songs were included, but more were than in the film. Since someone who could actually sing (Queen Latifah) took the title role this time, we did get to hear a few of the character's songs, but not all of them. And the Scarecrow sang "You Can't Win" instead of "I Was Born the Day Before Yesterday." "You Can't Win" was originally written to be sung by the Winkie slaves, but cut from the show, then resurrected for Michael Jackson's Scarecrow in the movie. I'm not sure why they added a new song when they didn't even use all of the ones that already existed, but maybe it's like how there's a new song in the Les Miserables movie so that it could be nominated for an Oscar. Are there awards for original songs in television productions? I've seen complaints about the song performances, particularly Mary J. Blige doing "Don't Nobody Give Me No Bad News," but I didn't have any problems with them. I guess I'm just not as much of an audiophile.
The costumes were excellent, including totally over-the-top dresses for the witches and weird nightclub outfits for the inhabitants of the Emerald City. Shanice Williams made a really cute Dorothy, and original Broadway Dorothy Stephanie Mills made an appearance as Aunt Em. The effects were somewhat lacking, and I should point out that I hardly expected Hollywood-level special effects from a televised stage play. It was more that the credits announced members of Cirque de Soleil, but they weren't used particularly effectively. We didn't even get to see the Winged Monkeys do anything. By the way, the production called the Monkeys "Winged Warriors," perhaps due to the potential uncomfortable association with African-American actors playing monkeys. Probably not necessary, but since their role was so small, it didn't really matter anyway. And melting Evillene just made her disappear? Maybe they should have used the acrobat budget on a trapdoor instead. I've also seen complaints about the modern humor they threw in, like Addaperle saying her magic slate was an Apple product (yes, they mentioned a sponsor in the production, then had their product not work properly) and the Wiz's giant head having an orange extension cord. While I can't say I found them especially funny, they didn't really bother me either. I kind of wonder how modern critics want updated productions of The Wizard of Oz to be. The story was published in 1900, the most famous movie came out in 1939, and The Wiz started in 1974. So would seventies references be acceptable, but not ones from after that? I also found it interesting that they made a few allusions to the MGM film, when I get the impression that the show was originally supposed to be totally distinct from that. Another comment I remember from Twitter is why the revelation that the Wiz was a woman was included at all, since this was a land already ruled by women. Maybe it was sort of the equivalent of how the Wizard appeared to the Scarecrow in a supposedly female form back in the book. Overall, I enjoyed it very much, but did it really need so many commercial breaks?