A Live Musical and Theatrical Spectacle for the Ages


[ot-caption title=”A scene from the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, that inspired the creation of The Wiz. (via CBS Television/ Wikimedia commons)”]

Last Thursday night, December 3rd, NBC aired their annual broadcast of a live musical. In 2013 they brought in Carrie Underwood in The Sound of Music, last year they broadcasted Peter Pan LIVE! with Allison Williams and Christopher Walken, and this year they chose The Wiz Live!

The Wiz was originally created in 1974 as a Broadway production, winning seven Tony Awards including the Tony for Best Musical. Then in 1978 it was adapted into a film by Motown Productions and Universal Studios. On Thursday a third installment of the Wiz saga premiered as a live television special on NBC.

Most people are familiar with the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, a film adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s novel that has been labeled a “classic” in the industry of American cinematography. The Wizard of Oz and The Wiz contain very similar, basic plotlines and the same major characters. The creation of The Wiz portrays a more modern and urban version of the classic film with a cast of African-American actors and actresses. Through the lens of modern African-American culture, the characters put a spin on telling the story of Dorothy’s adventures through the land of Oz and her quest to return home.

The original Dorothy in The Wiz was played by Stephanie Mills in 1975 on Broadway. As a sentimental tribute to the Broadway production, Stephanie Mills returned for the NBC remake forty years later as Dorothy’s Aunt Em. For viewers who saw the original production in New York when they were younger, her return as Aunt Em brought a sense of nostalgia for viewers familiar with her role as Dorothy.

In this live adaptation of The Wiz, the protagonist, Dorothy, is played by Shanice Williams, a nineteen-year-old actress from New Jersey. This was her television debut, and she definitely did not disappoint, as her singing and acting abilities were absolutely incredible. The Scarecrow was played by Elijah Kelley, an actor known best for his portrayal of Seaweed in the 2007 film version of Hairspray. The Tin Man was portrayed by Ne-Yo, the famous pop singer and songwriter, well-known for his hit single “Let Me Love You.” The Legendary Queen Latifah played the title role of the Wizard of Oz (the Wiz). All of the actors and actresses impressed viewers across the country with their incredible voices, as well as their superior acting skills during the live performance. NBC also teamed up with Cirque du Solei, adding a breathtaking dancing aspect to the show.

Even though this NBC remake was broadcast via television and there was no audience in the theater like typical musicals, the entire cast and crew still experienced the same obstacles and difficulties with performing live. However, the production was carried out flawlessly and the singing, acting, and dancing were spectacular. With eleven and a half million viewers, this NBC television adaptation of Broadway’s The Wiz exceeded all expectations.

Sources: The Atlantic, NBC, biography.com