Learn more about different adaptations of 'The Wizard of Oz' on stage

From The Wiz on Broadway to the Wicked movie and The Wizard of Oz in the West End, this really is the year of Oz. Find out more about these productions.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

We just can’t get enough of the wonderful world of The Wizard of Oz. From the 1939 movie version of L Frank Baum’s novel to the numerous stage incarnations, it’s a tale that continues to fire our imaginations – and it’s certainly having a moment right now.

We are finally getting the big-screen version of Wicked, starring Cynthia Erivo and Ariana Grande; the first part arrives this November. Before then, you can of course see the long-running show in the West End, currently led by the powerhouse (and history-making) duo of Alexia Khadime and Lucy St Louis.

Plus there’s more wonders to be found on both sides of the pond, thanks to the brilliant Broadway revival of The Wiz, and, returning to the West End this summer, Nikolai Foster’s thrillingly inventive production of The Wizard of Oz, starring Aston Merrygold and RuPaul's Drag Race winner The Vivienne.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road and read on for our guide to all the magical Oz shows that you can catch now.

The origins of The Wizard of Oz

It was in 1900 that L Frank Baum first introduced readers to a strange land called Oz. Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto are living with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry in Kansas when a cyclone flies them into this magical realm – and where their house promptly lands on, and kills, the Wicked Witch of the East.

Amid the Munchkins’ celebrations, the Good Witch of the North gives Dorothy instructions on how to reach the Emerald City, where she’ll find the great and powerful Oz. Travelling along the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy forms her new gang: the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man. They join forces to battle the Wicked Witch of the West.

However, it turns out that Oz is a fake: he doesn’t have the power to help Dorothy. Instead, she taps the heels of the silver shoes gifted to her by the Good Witch and wishes – and that transports her home.

Baum’s tale was immortalised on screen in the sumptuous 1939 MGM technicolour movie, starring Judy Garland as Dorothy. Harold Arlen and EY Harburg’s songs have since passed into film history: “Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead,” “If I Only Had a Brain,” “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” and the Academy Award-winning “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.

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Wicked

Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel cleverly turned the Oz story on its head, retelling it from the point of view of the so-called Wicked Witch. We see the green-skinned Elphaba actually befriending the blonde “Good Witch” Glinda while at school, and, in Maguire’s version, it’s Elphaba who then becomes the victim and scapegoat of a corrupt regime.

Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman turned the novel into a smash-hit musical in 2003, and its original Broadway Elphaba, Idina Menzel, won a Tony Award for her incredible work. The show opened in the West End in 2006 and has been an audience favourite ever since, thanks to its spectacular production, stirring music, and unusual focus on female friendship and empowerment.

The West End production also made history in its most recent cast change: it’s the first time that the London company has been led by two Black actresses, Alexia Khadime and Lucy St Louis. They’re joined by an excellent supporting cast featuring Ryan Reid, Sophie-Louise Dann and Michael Fenton Stevens, so this is the perfect time to catch Wicked – whether it’s your first time or your 100th!

It will also whet your appetite for the long-awaited Wicked movie, which finally hits cinemas this November. The all-star cast features Cynthia Erivo, Ariana Grande, Michelle Yeoh, Jeff Goldblum, Jonathan Bailey, Keala Settle, and Peter Dinklage. The show is split into two movies – because after you hear “Defying Gravity”, you truly need a year to recover.

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The Wiz

The Wizard of Oz was also reborn as a pioneering African-American musical in 1974: The Wiz. Charlie Smalls and William F Brown’s hip, contemporary take on the Oz myth, featuring a pop, R&B and jazz score, was a revolutionary moment in Broadway history, and the show went on to win seven Tony Awards – including Best Musical.

It gained further popularity thanks to a 1978 film adaptation featuring pop music royalty. Michael Jackson and Diana Ross lent real soul to catchy songs like “Ease on Down the Road” and “Home”. More recently, a 2015 TV live version featured the likes of Mary J Blige, Queen Latifah, Ne-Yo, Uzo Aduba, and Amber Riley.

The Wiz is back on Broadway this season with another terrific cast, this time led by Nichelle Lewis, Avery Wilson, Deborah Cox, Philip Johnson Richardson, Kyle Lamar Freeman, Melody Betts, Wayne Brady, and Allyson Kaye Daniel. This hugely entertaining production also has script updates by Amber Ruffin (writer on Late Night with Seth Meyers).

Gillian Russo, of our sister site New York Theatre Guide, caught up with the company on the red carpet for The Wiz’s opening night to ask them a very important question: which dream celebrity would they love to accompany them on the Yellow Brick Road?

“It changes all the time, but Victoria Monét is pretty high up on that list,” declared Nichelle Lewis, who plays Dorothy. She added that she thinks the enduring appeal of The Wiz is that “it’s a story of finding your people and finding home. I feel like that’s something we can all relate to.”

Amber Ruffin’s choice of celebrity companion? “Queen Latifah. Final answer!” she laughed.

Ruffin also echoed Lewis’s sentiments about the show. “The Wiz is timeless because it’s a story about community, it’s a story about love, and this Wiz is a lot about family. Everyone is missing their roots, and it’s coming to terms with yourself in a way that helps you realise where you belong in the world. I guess it’s a story about belonging.”

Deborah Cox, who plays Glinda, spoke movingly about the significance of The Wiz. “I love that we are celebrating Black culture. We are showing this magical, fantastical show through a Black lens. I think it’s important to [have] a variety of different types of shows on Broadway. This is necessary, and it’s beautiful.”

Book The Wiz tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

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The Wizard of Oz

Finally, this summer West End audiences get another chance to see Nikolai Foster’s exciting production of the 2011 stage musical version of The Wizard of Oz. It’s a beguiling mix of the beloved songs from the movie and fresh material from none other than Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, and a perfect family theatre trip.

Foster revived the show at Leicester Curve in 2022, and it played to great success at the London Palladium last year. Now it’s back for an encore run, this time at the Gillian Lynne Theatre and starring Aviva Tulley as Dorothy, JLS favourite Aston Merrygold as the Tin Man, and RuPaul’s Drag Race UK winner The Vivienne as a fabulous Wicked Witch of the West.

It’s the cast that makes this production so special, believes Foster. “We have been blessed with a variety of astonishing actors coming in and out of our production, joining Dorothy on her journey to see the Wizard. The Vivienne is a true theatre star and a revelation in the role as the Wicked Witch.”

Foster also lauds the eternal magic of this heart-warming story. “There’s nothing more thrilling when Lion, Tin Man, Scarecrow, Toto, and Dorothy are all together for the first time and unite as a team. There is real power in these moments, especially when united with Arlen and Harburg’s well-loved songs.

“Seeing Dorothy wear the iconic red shoes and take to the Yellow Brick Road with her friends is something deep within our shared cultural DNA, and the iconography created on a soundstage in California in the 1930s still has the power to electrify and move us today.”

But does the show still speak to a modern audience? Absolutely, says Foster. “In an increasingly divided and secular society, the idea of going to meet an omnipotent figure who will fulfil your dreams, only to discover they’re a fraud and everything you were looking for is already within you, is a powerful message for the world today. This certainly resonates with audiences and these ideas are encapsulated in Andrew and Tim’s song ‘Already Home’, as Glinda and the Munchkins remind Dorothy: ‘home is a place in your heart.’”

It’s been a long road for this particular staging, as Foster explains. “We’ve been on the journey to Oz for a few years, having started imagining the production during lockdown, before finally getting it on its feet at Leicester’s Curve in 2022. We’ve since done it at the Palladium, on tour, and for a season at the Liverpool Empire.

“As a team, each of these new interactions with the production has enabled us to make tweaks and have the confidence to challenge the material and make our version of Oz the very best it can be. Baum’s world is so rich, it is always ripe for reinvention.”

Indeed, this Wizard of Oz has an astonishing, unique design concept. But that was all inspired by Baum, says Foster. “The ideas in his world, the richly crafted characters and fantasy lands mean it has been a joy to imagine visually. My starting point has always been that Oz is a real place and Dorothy really visits this other world.

“It’s been humbling seeing audiences’ reactions and knowing so many young imaginations are ignited, inspired and transported thanks to the unique magic of live theatre.”

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Photo credits: The Wizard of Oz (Marc Brenner), Wicked (Matt Crockett), The Wiz (Jeremy Daniel)

Originally published on

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