DECADES OF ENTERTAINMENT . . . & COUNTLESS MAGICAL GUESTS

May 2018

OZ-STRAVAGANZA!

DECADES OF ENTERTAINMENT . . . & COUNTLESS MAGICAL GUESTS

by John Fricke

A week from today, on Friday, June 1, Chittenango launches its forty-first annual celebration of native son, L. Frank Baum — the genius (yes, that’s right!) who created the wonderful world of Oz, its inhabitants, its geography, and its legends. When local librarian Clara Houck launched all of this more than four decades ago, the “festival” consisted of a children’s costume parade around a parking lot — with ice cream to follow. Now, OZ-Stravaganza! (as it’s come to be known) offers a full three-day weekend for tens of thousands of fans, and with international celebrities as its honored attendees.

Certainly, this year’s special-guest roster is an unprecedented amalgam of extraordinary talents, ceremoniously topped by Stephen Schwartz, the Oscar and Grammy Award-winning stage and screen songwriter. His Oz-themed musical, WICKED, achieves its fifteenth anniversary on Broadway in 2018. Appearing both separately and with Mr. Schwartz will be two of the New York stars of that show, Tiffany Haas, who played Glinda, and Michael McCorry Rose, who played Fiyero. (Tiffany is shown above, with one of her Elphabas, Anne Brumel.)  Additionally, Baum’s great-granddaughter, Dr. Gita Dorothy Morena and her nephew Austin Mantele, will recall their famous ancestor and his accomplishments. Steve Margoshes, another musical luminary, will discuss his burgeoning list of Oz compositions and introduce a new one, aided by students from Manlius High School. Gabriel Gale, the new “Royal Historian,” debuts the second volume of his AGES OF OZ book trilogy, published by Simon & Schuster, and costume designer Shawn Ryan offers recreations of famous wardrobe as first seen in Oz stage musicals from 1903 to the present day.

There’s more information about OZ-Stravaganza!  and its 2018 participants in last month’s blog and at the fest website:  Oz-stravaganza

But, in a reminiscent mood, I think this is also a perfect opportunity to point out that the star power of the festival harks back to the late 1980s, when Chittenango first played host to the one-and-only “Munchkin Coroner” of the famous 1939 WIZARD OF OZ movie, Meinhardt Raabe. So much did he enjoy Frank Baum’s birthplace that Meinhardt paved the (yellow brick . . .) way for local organizers to invite the participation of such other MGM Munchkins as Jerry Maren, center member of the “Lollipop Guild” trio, and Margaret Pellegrini, the “Flowerpot Hat” Dancer and “Sleepyhead.” Shown below are (foreground, from left:) Jerry and his wife, Elizabeth; Margaret; and Meinhardt and his wife, Marie. Oz collector Michael Mikicel (left) and I “stand guard”; this photo was taken circa 1991.

Numerous additional Munchkins made their way to Chittenango across the 1990s and into the new millennium: dancing townswomen Fern Formica and Ruth Duccini, soldiers Clarence Swensen (with wife Myrna) and Lewis Croft (with wife Eva), first trumpeter Karl Slover, and fiddler Mickey Carroll. Caren Marsh Doll, a notable Hollywood dancer in screen musicals of the 1930s and 1940s, was also a regular for several years. Caren served as one of Judy Garland’s OZ stand-ins on the MGM movie set while lights were focused, camera angles adjusted, and wind machines tested. Christiana Rickard, niece of MGM Scarecrow, Ray Bolger, shared memories of her beloved relative on a couple of occasions, and just last year, OZ-Stravaganza! saluted Jane Lahr, whose legendary father, Bert Lahr, played the Cowardly Lion in the OZ film. (As an Ozzy treat, here’s a photo of Jane at Bonhams in New York City; her father’s original costume was auctioned there for more than three million dollars in 2014.)

Of course, THE WIZARD OF OZ was a world-renowned book almost four decades before MGM transferred it to the screen, and in addition to Dr. Morena, many of Frank Baum’s other family members have come to Chittenango to honor their magical forebearer. His niece, Cynthia Tassini, was a happy participant; Baum’s classic 1910 book, THE EMERALD CITY OF OZ, was dedicated to her. Granddaughters Ozma Baum Mantele (dedicatee and namesake of 1917’s THE LOST PRINCESS OF OZ) and Janet Baum Donaldson both attended, as did great-grandsons Robert Baum (with wife Clare) and Roger Baum (with wife Charlene).  In addition to their festival work, Bob and Clare traveled to area schools and service organizations to depict Frank and his wife, Maud, in charming playlets. Roger — for almost forty years — has followed in the storytelling footsteps of his great-grandfather, enchanting children with his own new Oz books and movies.

From more recent OZ motion pictures, Chittenango has hosted actors and creative team members from OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL and AFTER THE WIZARD. Bringing OZ-Stravaganza! full circle, there were also past occasions when this year’s theme, BROADWAY COMES TO OZ, was implemented in other ways. Perhaps Bronson Pinchot will always be best remembered as “Balki” on the hit television sitcom, PERFECT STRANGERS. But to theatergoers, he’s also a Broadway musical star – besides being a lifelong Oz fan. For fest-goers, Bronson looked back at an Ozzy passion that began when he was a child. Felicia Ricci, a national touring Elphaba from WICKED, sang here one year, and author Gregory Maguire, author of the WICKED book series, thrilled a festival audience with a look-back at his triumphant writing career.

The list goes on and on; certainly not everyone can be re-celebrated in one blog. But the final nod for now must be given to two cast members from THE WIZ. That phenomenal 1970s Broadway smash was remembered here by one of its Cowardly Lion replacement actors, Ken Page (whose later credits include the voicing of Mr. Oogie-Boogie for Tim Burton’s animated triumph, THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS). Very memorably, no less than THE WIZ himself also graced the festival stage: Andre De Shields, the originator of the musical’s title role. (Below, Andre poses with International L. Frank Baum and All Things Oz Historical Foundation trustee Marc Baum and his wife, Jennifer.)

I think it’s safe to say that that Chittenango has long since proved to be a wondrous, enchanting “Land of Oz” all on its own – a statement underscored by the many exceptional people who have joyously accepted invitations to visit and celebrate L. Frank Baum. To be sure, he’s the mystically-powered originator who put both OZ-Stravaganza! and the Emerald City on the map!

 

The Upcoming Oz-stravaganza Festival

April 2018 

OZ ON BROADWAY!  (STARS OF WICKED!) 

OZ IN SONG!  OZ IN “COZTUME”!                                                                                        …AND OZ & BAUM IN BOOKS!

by John Fricke

 

A few days ago, the International L. Frank Baum and All Things Oz Historical Foundation announced their special guest roster for OZ-Stravaganza! 2018, and it’s a dazzling list of multi-talents — several making their debuts on “the Oz Circuit.” Each of them also ties-in with either this year’s theme, BROADWAY COMES TO OZ, or with the general love of Oz and its creator that characterize the annual Chittenango, NY, festival. A small village just east of Syracuse, Chittenango is the birthplace of author L. Frank Baum . . . and what would this world have been without him — and his stories, characters, and mystical lands that define THE WIZARD OF OZ and Oz Books?

Now in its forty-first consecutive year, OZ-Strav! 2018 takes place from Friday afternoon, June 1 through Sunday afternoon, June 3. The festivities include the traditional, lavish Oz parade, evening presentations by the honored guest stars, costumed characters, diverse contests, Ozzy displays and auctions, live music, vendors, craft booths, carnival rides, Authors & Artists Alley, a wide array of food – and much more.

“Topping the bill” are two first-timers for the festival, though they’re certainly not newcomers to Oz itself. TIFFANY HAAS and MICHAEL McCORRY ROSE have starred on Broadway in the legendary stage musical, WICKED: she as Glinda, and he as Fiyero. In addition to participating in OZ-Strav! autograph sessions, photo ops, and meet-and-greets on Friday and Saturday, they’ll take stage on Saturday evening to share fascinating, funny stories about their personal pathways to Oz. It’s happy history that the yellow brick road ultimately led both of them to New York’s Gershwin Theatre and their iconic roles in WICKED, the phenomenally successful Stephen Schwartz musical. That production celebrates its fifteenth anniversary on Broadway this year, and “Glinda” and “Fiyero” are the OZ-Strav! exemplifications of this joyous milestone. (Please note: Due to prior professional commitments, Ms. Haas and Mr. Rose will appear at the festival on Friday and Saturday only.)

Broadway composer, orchestrator, and symphonic arranger STEVE MARGOSHES wrote the songs for FAME – THE MUSICAL, which commemorates its thirtieth anniversary this year. The show has been performed world-wide since first produced in 1988; it’s been recorded on some twenty original cast albums and remains a supreme favorite of both audiences and entertainers. In recent years, Steve has brought his new (and often Oz-related) compositions to debut at OZ-Strav! and it’s a privilege to spotlight him in 2018.

In keeping with the festival’s theatrical theme, designer/newcomer SHAWN RYAN will premiere his OZ costume recreations at June’s OZ-Strav!, heralding WICKED, THE WIZ, the original 1902-1903 WIZARD OF OZ stage musical, and the more recent Lloyd-Webber incarnation of L. Frank Baum’s story. One of Shawn’s costumes will thereafter become part of the permanent collection of the Foundation’s All Things Oz Museum in Chittenango.

It’s always good and important to underscore the fact that all of this (and so much more) grew from the imagination and creativity of L. Frank Baum. In keeping with that, OZ-Strav! is proud to welcome back – for the first time in many years – Baum’s great-granddaughter, GITA DOROTHY MORENA.  A transpersonal psychotherapist, author, and lecturer, Dr. Morena practices in San Diego, CA, where she often draws upon Baum’s fairy tales and characters in her teachings and sessions. Much of her own philosophy and dedication is discussed in her book, THE WISDOM OF OZ.

Returning this year as well is GABRIEL GALE, conceptualizer and coauthor of the new book trilogy for children and young adults, AGES OF OZ. Simon & Schuster published its first volume, A FIERY FRIENDSHIP, in May 2017, and Gabe has selected OZ-Strav! as the ideal launching spot for volume two, A DARK DESCENT, which will be officially published on May 15 – the birthday anniversary of L. Frank Baum.

All of these special guests – and perhaps some surprise guests as well – will appear on either Friday or Saturday evening in their own presentations adjacent to Oz Park. They’ll also be available in the park itself during the afternoon hours throughout the weekend. As we draw closer to the magic, please continue to check the All Things Oz or OZ-Stravaganza! sites for more specific information (and more biographical details about these celebrities): Oz-stravaganza Special Guests

I’m delighted to say that I’ll once again serve as OZ-Stravaganza! emcee this year — and pretty much be around all Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons. Please come over and say “hello” – and take the opportunity to let us know what you’re enjoying; what you’d like to see as a part of future Oz events; and, in general, join in the conversation about the topic we love!

Many thanks for reading; I hope to see many of you in June . . . in OZ!