The Wiz Live: We Needed This (Review)
I am SO FULL from the culture fest that was The Wiz Live and I can’t wait to partake in it again!
With the current social state, filled with images of police brutality, horrible foreign and domestic terrorist acts, and an outrageous political climate–now was the perfect time to usher in something more encouraging, more positive, more loving. I can say with a smile on my face that The Wiz Live was everything I needed.
For weeks on the FanBrosShow podcast, we have been reminding listeners to tune into The Wiz Live musical (first aired on NBC on December 3, 2015). The idea of an updated version of the 1975 Broadway original created both excited and trepedatious energy. For one, its a remake of a well known classic stage production and film which were a re-imagining of The Wizard of Oz (NOTE: For those that need much more background on The Wiz and its origins as both a stage show and a film, check here: The Wiz (Original)). It also helped to set the tone of a generation, and those immediately after it, in how to create powerful upliftment and inclusivity for Blacks in the arts.
The Cast and Show
The castings for the most part were exceptionally on point. Shanice Williams as Dorothy, truly became a new star born during the program. Let’s be abundantly clear that she was forged in the crucible of a LIVE TV STAGE MUSICAL and she’s only 19. She was perhaps under the most scrutiny out of any of the performers, yet graduated with huge honors. She was smart, sassy, and charming. She rightfully showed out during the show and I couldn’t be happier.
Stephanie Mills appearing as Auntie Em was a super meta choice considering she actually played Dorothy in the Broadway production. Her unmistakable vocal style and vibrato was smooth and she sounded like she was in the prime of her R&B career. Elijah Kelley soared with his drunken master style perfection of Scarecrow, that expertly combined musical and physical acrobatics. Ne-Yo as the Tin Man was a perfect fit–I can’t say this enough. His real life cadence and mature saunter meshed perfectly with the robotic musings of the oil-slick character. David Alan Grier paid incredible homage to the The Wiz‘s previous Cowardly Lions, again trademarking the familiar growl/snarl and quivering lips to match the musical aesthetics of his peers.
Amber Riley as Addaperle, The Good Witch of the North, unequivocally took my breath away; the level of soul, the vocal runs, her supreme likability…just magnificent! Mary J. Blige surprised me the most in the best way possible. While I always felt Mary was well equipped to handle the role of Evilene (the Wicked Witch of the West), I had no idea how’d she do in a live stage production. With the only clues being from the teaser trailers released a week or so before the show, my expectations lowered dramatically. Her delivery in the teasers was not good at all (she was yelling her lines rather than acting them) and I feared a repeat during the television broadcast. However from the moment Mary stepped off her chariot she was incredible and made me apologize immediately. Not only did she do a great job, she breathed Queen of Hip Hop Soul life into her dialogue and most notably in the energetic musical number “Don’t Bring Me No Bad News”. Common as “The Bouncer”, basically the doorman for Club Emerald City, was present though his performance didn’t do much for me. However his outfit was pretty dope and made me think he stepped out of the Jackson 5’s “Can You Feel It” video.
Queen Latifah representing a gender-bent/gender-queer Wizard of Oz was not only an unprecedented portrayal of the character–it was very well done. I loved how the characters all initially thought she was a man (and addressed her as such) but then once she was caught red-handed some were incredulous that she was a woman; except Dorothy who rightfully stated “she can live however she wants!”. Queen provided the regal grandeur absolutely necessary to personify The Wiz, while staying true to the home grown, “just a regular person” feeling once she’s unmasked.
For me one of the most falling-on-the-floor-dead-in-glory moments was the appearance of Uzo Aduba as Glinda, The Good Witch of the South. Jesus Lord in heaven she was a dream! And when Dorothy exclaimed “She’s beautiful” my thug tears flowed immediately. All the feels convened in me simultaneously. The fact that you had a dark-skinned, full figured Black woman represent all that is good and holy in Oz–nothing but ecstatic applause from me (I also appreciated that they decided not to go with the blonde wig that they used in promo shots). Not only did I feel so proud for that moment, my heart nearly burst out of my chest upon seeing this vision:
The way Uzo floated into the scene–no words…well I had some words:
— Tatiana King Jones (@TatianaKing) December 4, 2015
Uzo was perfection:
— Karen Civil (@KarenCivil) December 4, 2015
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