The eagerly anticipated live version of The Wiz has met most expectations and exceeded many others. Initial reviews of The Wiz Live have been exceedingly positive. Some people on social media were calling the performance the best live NBC musical yet. Entertainment Weekly’s reviewers gave the show an A- rating.
Many people do not remember that The Wiz was originally a Broadway show. The Wiz first premiered on Broadway in 1975 and was made into a movie starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson in 1978. Luther Vandross first wrote the lyrics for iconic song “Everybody Rejoice (A Brand New Day),” sung by Dorothy after killling Evillene, the wicked witch of the West. The Wiz ended up winning seven Tonys.
The Wiz Live featured an all-black cast, just like the original movie. Characters Dorothy (Shanice Williams), Tin Man (Ne-Yo), Scarecrow (Elijah Kelley), the Cowardly Lion (David Alan Grier), The Wiz (Queen Latifah) and Evelline (Mary J. Blige) gave outstanding performances. Stephanie Mills, who played the original Dorothy, appears as Auntie Em in the The Wiz Live.
NBC’s casting of Williams to play Dorothy in The Wiz Live was a brilliant move. She’s an unknown from Rahway, N.J. with the perfect mix of street smarts and childlike wonder. And Williams can really sing, belting out lyrics in a way that stirs the soul.
Other notable performances included Stephanie Mills singing “The Feeling We Once Had,” Amber Riley as the Good Witch of the North, signing “He’s the Wiz,” Ne-Yo doing his trademark sexy croon on “What Would I Do If I Could Feel” and new song “We Got It,” and best of all, Mary J. Blige growling “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News.” The performances served to show that no flashy TV musical gimmicks can match the power of pure, raw talent.
There were a number of noticeable updates to the storyline of The Wiz Live. The munchkins in Munchkinland were using iPads and eating sushi. The Emerald City was designed to look like an amazing gay club from Paris Is Burning. The show even featured the Scarecrow doing the stanky legg.
If there is any classic work that can speak about race and social justice in 2015, it’s The Wiz. The story is about fighting against tyranny, being brave, finding your people, and having a heart. The story shows a young woman who feels powerless in the world realizing that she still matters and that she can do great things. It is an uplifting message in these trying times.