The Wiz will ease on down the road and into your living room on Thursday, Dec. 3 (8 p.m. EST) with the debut of The Wiz Live!, a new version of the 1970s stage and film hit that has been re-imagined for television.
It is the third live musical presentation that Neil Meron and Craig Zadan have brought to NBC following The Sound of Music Live! in 2013 and Peter Pan Live! in 2014. The production is directed by Atlanta’s own Kenny Leon, artistic director of True Colors Theatre.
The Wiz first hit Broadway in 1975. It was a retelling of L. Frank Baum’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for a modern African-American audience. After winning seven Tony Awards including one for Best Musical, it was adapted into a film which premiered in 1978.
That bring us to The Wiz Live! which is a television adaptation of the original Broadway stage show. Next year, the new production is scheduled to be turned into a Broadway revival by Cirque du Soleil. Whew! That’s a lot of Wiz (es). So here’s a primer to help you keep it all straight.
The new production features newcomer Shanice Williams in the role of Dorothy. Stefanie Mills, the original Broadway Dorothy, returns as Auntie Em. Here’s a video of the two of them singing the hit “Home.”
Other cast members include David Alan Grier as the Cowardly Lion; Ne-Yo as the Tin Man and Elijah Kelley, a graduate of Troup County High School in LaGrange, as the Scarecrow.
Queen Latifah (the Wiz), Mary J. Blige (Evilene), Uzo Aduba (Glinda the Good Witch), Amber Riley (Addaperle, the Good Witch of the North) and Common (Bouncer in Oz.) add more star power to the production.
Here’s how The Wiz Live! is different from the previous productions:
The incredible changing Dorothy. In the original Broadway Wiz, Dorothy was the same young girl living with her Aunt and Uncle in Kansas. Stephanie Mills was a teenager when she took the role on Broadway. But in the 1978 film version, Diana Ross, then 33, elbowed her way in on the role. So the film Dorothy became a Kindergarten teacher in Harlem caught in a snowstorm. Thankfully, Dorothy is back to being a teenager played by 19-year-old Shanice Williams.
The plot thickens. Writer Harvey Fierstein had some pretty strong views about what didn’t work in the previous incarnations of the Wiz and the Wizard of Oz and he set out to change it. Instead of being helplessly swept away in a storm, the new Dorothy is more like a runaway. Her parents are dead, she hates living with Auntie Em and the kids at school stink. So she wills herself a new life by getting swept away in the wind. And like her colorful companions, this Dorothy has a journey of discovery rather than just a desire to go back home.
Scene closing song. Kenny Leon always felt the first act of The Wiz needed a finale song. But the original production doesn’t have one. So he tapped Ne-Yo on the shoulder and asked him to write it. The result, “We Got it” is the only original song in The Wiz Live! Music is a big deal in The Wiz. The original Broadway production reportedly languished in its opening days until a commercial featuring the cast singing “Ease on Down the Road” upped public interest. “Home” became a career defining song for young Stephanie Mills, who would continue to perform it in concert well after she had a career as a solo R&B artist.
New roles, new players. The Wiz and the great and powerful Oz have always been portrayed by men. Queen Latifah is not a man, but she takes on the role of the Wiz in this new production. In past versions of the Wiz, a gatekeeper kept Dorothy and company out of the Emerald City, but what is a gatekeeper? Fierstein decided it should be a bouncer, so Common is ruling the most exclusive club entry in town.
One night only. The Wiz Live! is just that — a one-time live performance on television. So unlike the other productions of The Wiz, if you miss it, you won’t have a chance to see it again. Click here for details on the viewing party at Hard Rock Cafe.