We've been down this Yellow Brick Road a time or two before. And the opening of the new James Franco movie, "Oz the Great and Powerful," reminds us again, happily, of what a great and powerful pop culture force Oz has turned out to be. Here are five highlights from its storied history. 1900: The L. Frank Baum Oz series of novels: Most know Oz from the glorious Technicolor 1939 MGM musical with Judy Garland. But it all began when author L. Frank Baum penned more than a dozen Oz novels, the first of which was published in 1900. After Baum opened our imaginations to this magical land, other writers later leapt in to offer their interpretations. One of my favorite recent adaptations: Marvel Comics' "The Marvelous
Land of Oz," with stunning illustrations by Skottie Young. 1939: "The Wizard of Oz": You'd have to be a flying monkey's uncle to not think this is the Oz against which all others must be measured, a magical musical that's filled with whimsical characters such as the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion and Toto. "Wizard" remains not just one of our favorite movie musicals, but one of our most cherished movies, period. It endures, it enriches, and it revives in us a childlike innocence and wonder. And then reminds us that there really is no place like home -- wherever that might be. A silent version preceded it in 1925. 1973: "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road": Way, way back -- in a time when music fans actually went to record stores so they could purchase LPs -- a talented piano player and singer with outlandish eyewear was becoming a sensation. And in 1973, Elton John -- the Sir came later -- released one of his defining artistic moments, the two-disc-set "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." The cover, with Elton and said eyewear venturing out onto the yellow brick road, was nearly as unforgettable as the original songs contained inside: his moving ode to Marilyn Monroe ("Candle in the Wind"), the chantable "Bennie and the Jets" with the stuttering b's joined by those slithering s's on the end, and the innocence-lost title song, among others. A classic. 1975: "The Wiz": Onstage, first there was "The Wiz" -- a significant, multiple Tony winner from 1975 that proudly declared itself a super soul musical version of "The Wizard of Oz." Featuring an all-black cast, it won raves and had a successful run before getting adapted -- some say ruined -- for the movies. Diana Ross took on the role of Dorothy, even though she was in her 30s and most definitely looked it. Others in the notable cast included Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor, Nipsey Russell and Lena Horne. "The Wiz" cost a lot and tanked at the box office, with critics showing little affection for it. 2003: "Wicked": A megahit whenever and wherever it lands, "Wicked" debuted in San Francisco and quickly blew onto Broadway, where it collected glowing reviews and some Tonys. Based on the 1995 Gregory Maguire novel about the relationship between Glinda the Good Witch of the North and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, it continues to draw first-timers and devotees who cherish it and see it over and over again. And if you're ever feeling down, just crank up the signature song, "Defying Gravity." We defy you to not feel better.
Patti Murin as Glinda and Dee Roscioli as Elphaba in the national tour of "Wicked," coming to San Francisco.