Based on the 1975 Broadway hit musical, 1984 revival, and 1978 movie of the same name, “The Wiz Live!” became NBC’s third live stage production Thursday night. 2013 introduced “The Sound of Music Live!” and last year’s “Peter Pan Live!” It looks like the TV network has another great success on its hands, according to television ratings and social media.
One may wonder what Broadway adaptation they have in store for viewers and theatre aficionados next year. The nearly three-hour event included much of the beloved and notorious characters from L. Frank Baum’s 1900 book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: and the classic 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz” starring Judy Garland.
What made “The Wiz Live!” relevant for the 21st century, beside the all African-American cast, is its incorporation of hip hop music and dance into some of the numbers. Ne-Yo as Tin Man had the most contemporary moves during his solos. Even the original musical songs from the 1975 Broadway production (one from the ‘84 revival and another from the ‘78 film version) such as “Ease on Down the Road” were revamped for a new generation.
Another standout for this live musical was the magnificent colors the viewers witnessed as Dorothy arrived in Munchkinland. When Dorothy and her gang that included the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion first see the Emerald City, they are entranced by the dancing poppies all decked out in a variety of reds and pinks. Once at the Emerald City everything goes green with sequins, metallics, and neon. A vast number of highlighted performances are worth mentioning from high profile actors and musicians in the cast. It is Shanice Williams as Dorothy who had the most impressive performance of the night with her powerhouse vocals.
After the end of “The Wiz Live!,” which ended 15 minutes early as scheduled, the WFLA News Channel 8 team of Keith Cate and Jennifer Leigh presented local viewers in Tampa Bay with some fascinating behind-the-scenes footage on the making of this exhilarating musical with its timeless themes. One of which was introducing the 18-year old Williams who had attended an open casting call and actually got the role as Dorothy. She now joins in with Stephanie Mills who was the original Dorothy from Broadway’s “The Wiz.”
Mills was Auntie Em in the live production and performed her solo just like her 1980s hit “Never Knew Love Like This Before.” Amber Riley’s big voice was perfect as one of the three remaining witches in Oz as Addaperle, the Good Witch of the North. Fans of the Netflix show “Orange is the New Black” had to wait for Uzo Aduba to make her grand entrance as Glinda, the Good Witch of the South near the end with “A Rested Body Is a Rested Mind” and “Believe in Yourself.” Mary J. Blige’s antagonistic witch, Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West, brought sass and meanness to her infamous role.
Elijah Kelley as the Scarecrow (made famous by Michael Jackson in the 1970s film), Ne-Yo’s compassionate Tin Man, and David Alan Grier’s comedic yet sensitive Cowardly Lion are truly worth noting of their brilliant performances. Queen Latifah was bold, daring, and vulnerable as the great and powerful Oz. Fans of the Broadway productions and film adaptations, both from 1939 and 1978, were not to be disappointed with NBC’s “The Wiz Live!” as it lives up to its legacy.