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The Stars Aligned.

 

I wasn’t born when The Wiz landed on Broadway and swept the Tony’s. By the time I knew anything about The Wiz, I was in grade school and even then, it wasn’t something put on the “must listen” list. However, I did watch the movie version and even as a child, I wasn’t impressed by it. Sure, Michael Jackson busted a move as the Scarecrow but it never really hit home to me. But once I got my hands on the Broadway soundtrack of the show, I was blown away.

Expectations were high for The Wiz Live!

After last year’s ridiculous Peter Pan Live, I believe many people were probably overly cautious for The Wiz to follow suit and hey, they had every right to be. They didn’t need to worry one bit. With a star studded cast and newcomer, Shanice Williams, the show hit all the right marks (except for the casting of Common as the Bouncer. More to come on that!)

Stephanie Mills originated the role of Dorothy on Broadway and now, 40 years later, she took on the role of Aunt Em in the live broadcast. That was beautiful, to me, and her opening the show with the song, “The Feeling We Once Had,”…I got the chills. Stephanie Mills proved that even after 40 years, she’s still got it! For newcomer, Shanice Williams, I know people were on edge. She was an unknown and, these days, no one really takes risks in giving unknowns a chance. For The Wiz Live, I’m very happy they took the risk because it paid off big time!

Shanice brought her A game as Dorothy Gale. She brought an innocence early on that melted away into something more as the broadcast moved steadily along. When she sang “Home,” I was almost in tears. Her voice is powerful and she brought something different, which I am more happy about than what Stephanie Mills brought 40 years ago. The Scarecrow, played by Elijah Kelley, was my second favorite casting choice. I first knew about him in the 2007 Summer blockbuster, Hairspray, the movie version of the hit Broadway Show. Elijah was the perfect choice for this role as he brought much humor to the broadcast. Then, we have the Tin-Man played by Ne-Yo. I admit, I was extremely worried about this casting. After seeing Ne-Yo guest star on Empire a few weeks ago, I wasn’t impressed by his acting at all. Thank god he delivered for this! He gave the Tin Man some soul and I loved it. When he sang “What Would I Do If I Could Feel,” I felt it! And then rounding out the quartet is David Allan Grier as The Cowardly Lion. It’s a no brainer that this was also a fine casting choice because Mr. Grier is no stranger to comedy and the Lion provides a sufficient amount of comedy. Then you have Queen Latifah as The Wiz. This was different; I was expecting a man, but when they announced she’d been cast, I was intrigued. Though I wished she could’ve been a bit stronger in terms of being more intimidating when she first appeared, she left her mark when she had her final number. It made up for the rather weak start.

The casting of Amber Riley as Addaperle, The Good Witch of the North was perfect too! Her rendition of “He’s The Wiz” was a home run for her, but her acting was also flawless! Uzo Aduba as Glinda, the Good Witch of the South was spot on. She looked gorgeous in the costume she wore but her pipes… She sounded AMAZING! No trace of “Crazy Eyes” (Orange Is The New Black) at all. Shame that Glinda only has one scene/song, but she owned it and made her mark! Rounding out the trio of witches is Mary J. Blige as Evillene, The Wicked Witch of the West. Again, I was a bit worried. Playing the villain is no easy feat but I am happy to say, she soothed my nerves quite quickly! Her energy was infectious and her delivery was on point! The biggest casting hiccup was Common, as the Bouncer for The Emerald City. Was he alive for this broadcast? Because he looked dead in the water. Though the character has two scenes, I was still hoping to see something from him. All I saw was a statue.

As for the Ensemble cast portraying the Crows, Citizens of the Emerald City, Flying Monkeys and more, I was extremely impressed! I saw a few Broadway vets among them and it was amazing. The costumes were beautiful and the set pieces were as they should be for certain scenes: bright for Munchkinland, Dark for the Forest…great work was put into the technical aspects and I am happy about that.

All in all, it was a significant improvement over last year’s Peter Pan Live and I know that this isn’t the last we will see of Shanice Williams. She has made her mark and proven that she can command a stage; now let’s hope we see her on Broadway soon!

 

Produced By: Craig Zadan, Neil Meron

Written By: Harvey Fierstein

Starring: Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige David Alan Grier, Uzo Aduba, Amber Riley, Elijah Kelley, Common, Ne-Yo, Stephanie Mills, Shanice Williams

Distributed By: NBC

Original Air Date: December 3, 2015

Run Time: 180 minutes

Rating: TV-G

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