By: John Fricke

Above: Meet the five special guests whose talents and professional contributions will bring them to Chittenango, NY, from Friday, June 3 through Sunday, June 5th. OZ-Stravaganza! — the longest-running Oz festival in the world — swings happily back into action with its famous parade, diverse programming, AND the appearance (in her first visit here) of an original cast member of MGM’s classic 1939 film version of THE WIZARD OF OZ! Read all about ALL of it below, and plan to join us in the birthplace village of author L. Frank Baum: he’s the one who wrote THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ and started the whole thing. 😊

We’re back! for the (almost annual) forty-fifth time!  Yes, we had to slow down for a couple of years, but it took a world-wide pandemic to do it. And now, for the first go-round since 2019, we’re once again “Off to See the Wizard” — and everyone else. (Toto, too!)

Meanwhile, you can hear the Ozian shouts of joy all the way from Munchkinland to the Emerald City – AND as they ricochet off the Yellow Brick Road that actually exists alongside Genesee Street in Chittenango, NY. OZ-STRAVAGANZA! — the world’s longest-running WIZARD OF OZ Festival — kicks off on Friday, June 3rd and runs through Sunday, June 5th. Their illustrious parade begins at 2 p.m. on Saturday; all three days offer amusement rides, food, vendors, crafts, auctions, displays, all kinds of contests, Oz celebrities, Oz artists and authors, Oz collectibles and treasures, and Oz souvenirs. The full schedule for the weekend and further details may be found at: Oz-Stravaganza 2022 Schedule! And it’s a guaranteed “over the rainbow” adventure for everyone, especially for children — and for any who used to be children.

There are two particularly exciting aspects to OZ-Stravaganza! 2022. This year marks the tenth anniversary of Chittenango’s All Things Oz Museum, in which the 122 year history of Oz books, movies, musicals, TV shows, toys, dolls, games – and all – are celebrated in several thousand items on rotating view. Freshly-refurbished and with new “specialty” cases that categorize and pay homage to all things Oz, the Museum will be open throughout the weekend; please see further information and photos below!

The second extraordinary attraction for 2022 and its festival is a brand new and honored special guest. Betty Ann Bruno, pictured just above, was a little girl dance student back in 1938, and already so proficient at age seven that she was selected with several other children to appear in the “Munchkinland” sequence of the now-long-legendary MGM movie, THE WIZARD OF OZ. All the stars and principal players from that cast have passed on, as have all the “little people” (as they preferred to be called) who comprised 124 of the Munchkin performers. Of the few surviving child dancers, however – affectionately known as “MunchKids” – ninety-year-old Betty Ann Bruno this year makes her first visit to Chittenango. She’ll serve as the Grand Marshal of the OZ-Stravaganza! parade; she’ll autograph her new autobiography (THE MUNCHKIN DIARY: MY PERSONAL YELLOW BRICK ROAD) and be interviewed onstage about her career; and she’ll give a dance demonstration and class — which totally befits the founder of Hula Mai, an acclaimed Hawaiian dance company in California!

Above: Judy Garland – in her Dorothy Gale garb – chats on THE WIZARD OF OZ set with six of the movie’s Munchkins. Three of these are “little people”: Janette Fern (later Fern Formica; extreme left), Jerry Maren (of “The Lollipop Guild” trio; crouching center), and Olga Nardone (extreme right). With them are three of the “MunchKids” (as they’ve since been termed): Raynelle Lasky and Priscilla Montgomery (second and third from the left) and Betty Ann Cain (now Bruno), who’s peeking up over Judy’s right arm!

Here’s complete information about all of this year’s special guests and their onstage presentations. All four of these programs take place in the First Presbyterian Church, 118 Arch Street, immediately adjacent to OZ Park.

On Friday, June 3rd:

6:00 pm: STEVE MARGOSHES and his NEW SONGS FROM OZ — The cherished Broadway and pop composer/orchestrator (THE WHO’S TOMMY, FAME, BIG RIVER, AIDA) talks about his project, NEW SONGS FROM OZ. He’ll share excerpts from the numbers he’s thus far written; these and more have been (or will be) recorded for the forthcoming CD/digital download project he’s producing in cooperation with Chittenango’s International L. Frank Baum & All Things Oz Historical Foundation. (STEVE is pictured at the top of this month’s blog.)

6:45 pm; An Evening With BETTY ANN BRUNO – As is noted above, this year marks the very first Chittenango appearance of the child dancer whose talent led her to participate as one of the Munchkins in MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ movie in 1938. An amazing woman — and author of the new memoir, THE MUNCHKIN DIARY: MY PERSONAL YELLOW BRICK ROAD – BETTY ANN has enjoyed a major career in investigative journalism, television and broadcasting, worked for the CIA, founded her own dance company, and continues to dance and teach today!

On Saturday, June 4th:

6:00 pm: GABE AND JOHN! GABRIEL GALE and OZ-Stravaganza!’s long-time master-of-ceremonies JOHN FRICKE are, respectively, the artist and the author of the acclaimed new book, THE ART OF OZ (pictured above).They’ll discuss this deluxe coffee-table book, their collaboration process, their love for all things Baum, and their future projects and hopes — including the highly anticipated third title in GABE’s AGES OF OZ fantasy series for young readers. (The Ozzy duo is shown below during GABE’s very first presentational visit to an Oz Festival — right here! — in 2017.)

7:00 pm: JUDY: SO MUCH MORE THAN DOROTHY! — Next month (June 10, 2022) marks the 100th birthday anniversary of someone who was initially heralded as “the Little Girl With the Great Big Voice,” proceeded to a reputation as “Miss Show Business,” and was eventually simply defined as “the World’s Greatest Entertainer.” Emmy Award-winning producer and biographer JOHN FRICKE is considered the preeminent Judy Garland and Oz historian, which makes him the ideal person to salute the centennial of the singer/dancer/actress and her work in films and on television. He’ll also talk of her role as Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ; tell about attending three of her concerts in the 1960s; and remember meeting her after one of those shows, when he was sixteen.

But . . .  THERE’S MORE!

On the OZ-Stravaganza! Main Stage (also in OZ Park) on Sunday, June 5th at 1 pm, BETTY ANN BRUNO returns for a special hour-long dance exhibition and class for all of those interested in her renowned Hula Mai Hawaiian Dance Company and the work they delight in sharing.

AND . . .  ALL WEEKEND at the All Things OZ Museum, 219 Genesee Street: the superlative costume designer and wardrobe “constructionist” SHAWN RYAN displays and chats about his latest recreations of some of the most famous movie and stage costumes in Oz, Hollywood, or Broadway history! His special collection this year has been given the sobriquet BEAUTIFUL WICKEDNESS; don’t miss this unique and wondrously inspired collection and its artisan! (SHAWN is pictured up top as well.)

Now, since we’re discussing the All Things Oz Museum, here’s a sneak peek at just a small percentage of the redecoration work that’s been done there to honor their first full decade of Oz retrospectives. Even past visitors will discover that many new cases have been created or added to pay specific tribute to different aspects of the greater Oz legend.

THE WIZ, of course, gets its own case (above). Broadway’s all-black-cast and pop music-retelling of Baum’s classic text was the surprise, multi-Tony Award-winning smash hit of the 1975 season and ran in New York City for four years. The dress shown here is a recreation (by Shawn Ryan) of that worn by Stephanie Mills, the Dorothy of the show’s original cast. The op-art Emerald City glasses also date from the premiere Broadway engagement – a gift to the Museum from the show’s premier “WIZ” himself, André de Shields. (The red “tee” is André’s original cast shirt, as well.) THE WIZ case also features a baseball cap that dates from the production’s first national tour; a record album signed by André and the show’s composer/lyricist Charlie Smalls; and an original playbill signed by Ken Page – one of the Cowardly Lions in the long-run cast. Both André and Ken are great, good friends of All Things Oz and have entertained at past OZ-Stravaganza! events.

Above, the All Things Oz Museum happily (and in perpetuity) remembers two of the original MGM movie Munchkins. “Soldier” Clarence Swensen and “flowerpot hat” dancer Margaret Pellegrini were unquestionably among the most beloved and stalwart of the little people who toured to commemorate Oz from the 1980s well into the 2000s. They were so much in demand that both worked through several recreations of their original movie garb over the years; when these two costumes were replaced by fresher models, Margaret and Clarence donated them to Chittenango’s Museum for permanent exhibition.

Each of the most famous WIZARD OF OZ characters has a case of his or her own in the All Things Oz Museum – with biographical information about the actor who played the role in MGM’s film. Margaret Hamilton is venerated in such fashion here, along with stills, magazines, and various WWW products that acknowledge HER unforgettable and “beautiful wickedness.”

Broadway’s latest “Oz Sensation Supreme” focuses on the WWW, too – and that, of course, is WICKED. It opened in NYC in 2003 and continues to delight millions, nationally and internationally. The All Things Oz Museum boasts a cast-signed poster, an autographed print signed by Stephen Schwartz (masterful composer/lyricist of all the WICKED songs), and – in a second case — the WICKED book and others signed by author Gregory Maguire. Both Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Maguire have supported and made onstage appearances at OZ-Stravaganza! in the recent past.

Finally, we come back to the literal AND figurative reason for Chittenango’s OZ-Stravaganza! It’s here that L. Frank Baum was born; it’s here that his glorious imagination, creative genius, communicative power, and immeasurable heart and humor originated. Of course, the Museum proudly recognizes this, again and again. In the case pictured above, one sees Baum’s widow, Maud, as photographed at their Hollywood home by MGM in 1939 as publicity for (what we’re this year calling!) the JUDY GARLAND/BETTY ANN BRUNO movie. She’s reading the very first edition of THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ – and just next to her photo in the case is another early edition of Baum’s immortal tale.

Well . . . what more can be said? Frank, Judy, Betty Ann – and many others cited in the full schedule for the weekend of June 3rd – June 5th – are integral, intrinsic representatives of the magical kingdom that is quintessentially American. In that tradition, it means as well that Oz is all-embracing. To echo what was said above, we’re back – hey, everyone! — and we welcome the world with open arms and countless HUZZ-OZ!

Thank you for reading! We hope to see you next month – or any other time you’re in central New York and want to visit All Things Oz.

Where “the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.”