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Oz and the Musical

Performing the American Fairy Tale

Ryan Bunch

Publication Date - December 2022

ISBN: 9780190843144

232 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock


From the first stage production of The Wizard of Oz in 1902, to the classic MGM film (1939), to the musicals The Wiz (1975) and Wicked (2003), L. Frank Baum's children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) has served as the basis for some of the most popular musicals on stage and screen. In this book, musical theater scholar Ryan Bunch draws on his personal experience as an Oz fan to explore how a story that has been hailed as "the American fairy tale" serves as a guide for thinking about the art form of the American musical and how both reveal American identity to be a utopian performance.

Show by show, Bunch highlights the forms and conventions of each musical work as practiced in its time and context-such as the turn-of-the-century extravaganza, the classical Hollywood film musical, the Black Broadway musical of the 1970s, and the twenty-first-century mega-musical. He then shows how the journey of each show teaches participants and audiences something about how to act American within contested frameworks of race, gender, sexuality, age, and embodiment. Bunch also explores home theatricals, make-believe play, school musicals, Oz-themed environments, and community events as sites where the performance of the American fairy tale brings home and utopia into contact through the conventions of the musical. Using close readings of the various Oz shows, personal reflections, and interviews with fans, audiences, and performers, Bunch demonstrates how adapted Oz musicals imply both inclusions and exclusions in the performance of an American utopia.


  • Presents a new perspective on why Oz persists in American popular culture
  • Offers a fresh way of thinking about musicals by looking to an influential set of performance texts to theorize the practices of the genre
  • Draws evidence from multiple methods, combining interviews, personal experience, textual analysis, material culture, and performance theory
  • Brings new attention to the performativity of childhood and its centrality to the practices of musical theater, fairy tales, and the negotiation of national mythologies

About the Author(s)

Ryan Bunch studies musical theater as well as children's music, media, literature, and performance cultures. He studied historical musicology at the University of Maryland and is completing a Ph.D. in childhood studies at Rutgers University-Camden. He is an active member of the International Wizard of Oz Club.


"Bringing together his expertise in American musical theatre and childhood studies, Bunch walks readers through a culturally-grounded understanding of the world of Oz as found in books, on stages, on screens, in homes, and in communities. Deep scholarship and deep engagement with fan culture create a persuasive reading of the Oz fairy tale as quintessentially American, consciously performative, and full of a kind of theatrical humbug that makes the story perpetually adaptable and reflective of our changing society." -- Dr. Jessica Sternfeld, Associate Professor of Music, Chapman University

"Oz and the Musical beautifully analyzes the utopian possibility of the Oz story in forging a sense of American belonging. Exploring the form of the musical and its participatory potential, Bunch embraces the value of make believe and the performative to American inclusiveness. In engaging, lively prose, he reads Oz, The Wiz, and Wicked as fabulous expressions of the variety of the American imagination." -- Katharine Capshaw, Professor of English and Africana Studies Affiliate, University of Connecticut

Table of Contents

    About the Companion Website
    Introduction: The Fairy Tale, the Musical, and "America"

    1. The Man Behind the Curtain: L. Frank Baum's Theatrical Fairy Tale
    2. My Own Backyard: MGM's The Wizard of Oz
    3. Easing Down the Road: The Soul of The Wiz
    4. Wicked: The Witch's Turn
    5. "And Then There Was Oz Again": Making Believe Between Oz and Home
    Epilogue: What Have You Learned, Dorothy?