The Wiz Live!: EW Review

4 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Wiz Live!’ just wows.

An exuberant, inventive “The Wiz Live!” on Thursday night breathed new life into the notion of full-scale musicals on live TV with a happy serving of 70s soul and R&B, updated with a 2015 vibe.As you may have heard from hate-watch-fans everywhere, the first two live musicals producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron did for NBC, The Sound of Music and Peter Pan, were more than a little rough around the edges. However, even though the 1975 show was written to feature an all-black cast – and the network stayed true to the script – social media erupted during the screening with calls of racism. Her Dorothy started out as a petulant teen, then a plucky savior of a troubled land and finally, in a poignant climax, a young woman who knows where her heart lies.

This time 12 cameras on Long Island captured even higher stakes with complicated costumes, fire bursts, LED screens, a live dog, smoke and Cirque Du Soleil acrobats in bouncy prosthetic stilts that looked sort of like curved snowshoes. Another user wrote: ‘why are there no whites starring in #TheWiz? this is racist! can u imagine if it were the other way? #whitelivesmatter #TheWizLive.’ Additionally, a viewer posted: ‘#TheWiz on @NBC is a PC Disaster. NBC’s live musical event has become a mini-tradition, with the network staging a star-laden classic the Thursday after Thanksgiving (“The Sound of Music” and “Peter Pan”) in the past two years. The TV musical starred 19-year-old newcomer Shanice Williams as Dorothy, who got stronger as the night went on and who crushed the song’s finale, “Home;” a strong Queen Latifah as the Wiz with real stage presence; Amber Riley, a very blue good witch of the North who destroyed “He’s the Wizard;” and a perfectly evil Mary J.

And were that not enough, viewers got to witness the launch of a scintillating new performer in Shanice Williams, the young college student who may just have sung her way to stardom as Dorothy. The first wise move in this adaptation of the 1975 Broadway hit, which reimagined The Wizard of Oz with an all-African-American cast, was making The Wiz’s Dorothy a brave, resilient teenager again instead of the whiny, weepy middle-aged woman of the much-maligned 1978 movie. As the network enters its third year of December musicality, there are as many stakes and storylines as ever — not the least because the groundbreaking musical is airing just as the nation is engaged in a charged discussion about race and the Black Lives Matter movement in full swing. David Alan Grier was unrecognizable as the Cowardly Lion, in just one of a legion of memorable (and Emmy-worthy) costumes of the night. “Ease on Down the Road” might be one of the few numbers impossible to screw up.

The second was turning the director’s chair over to Kenny Leon, who skillfully balanced the theatricality of the original with the staging demands of a live televised performance, using simple sets and projections and relying on Fatima Robinson’s choreography and Paul Tazewell’s costumes to supply the bulk of the magic. Penned by composer Charlie Smalls, the show won a Tony award and was adapted into a film in 1978 starring Michael Jackson, Dianna Ross and Richard Pryor. The night’s original song, “We Got It,” written by Ne-Yo and Elijah Kelley, proved to be a fun pop number that served an important plot purpose, uniting Dorothy with her new pals in a quest to take down the Wicked Witch. Uzo Aduba made for an impressive Glinda. “The magic is inside you,” she told Dorothy, and we all believed. “Glee’s” Amber Riley was the impish Addaperle, the other good witch. The show begins much like the 1939 classic by showing the life of a rural family as Dorothy attempts to run away after her dog Toto was taken away as she exclaimed: ‘You can’t run away from home if you’re not home to start with.’ Stephanie Mills, who starred in the original Broadway musical as Dorothy, portrayed Dorthy’s Aunt Em as she sung the first song of the event: The Feeling We Once Had.

The first of Dorothy’s gang that she runs into is the Scarecrow, played by Elijah Kelley, who is on the search for a brain but stuck in a predicament as he is surrounded by crows who break out into a song called You Can’t Win. And come watch with The Times’ writers, who will tweet and share thoughts on the site beginning at 5 p.m., when the first broadcast on the East Coast airs.

Dorothy then makes a stand as she tells the crows: ”I already killed one Wicked Witch today and I wasn’t even mad at her,’ leaving the crows to back down. When the Lion finally yanked back that curtain, she still was a sight in a mere robe and pajamas. “Nothing wrong with being a woman,” Dorothy chided her surprised pals. At a “Wiz” rehearsal visited by The Times last month, Blige sang “unleash my winged warriors” as minions swirled around her, then faced off with Dorothy in a climactic chase scene. Of course, there’s always the question of how successfully people known for their pipes more than their acting chops can pull off a role, and Thursday will be no different. Choreographer Fatima Robinson’s dancing was modern and light, as when she created a joyful, smiling “Everybody Rejoice,” and a fantastic visual introduction to Emerald City complete with voguing, like a party at Lady Gaga’s.

After the song, she is alerted that Dorothy and the gang are on their way to kill her and at one point Blige says: ‘So Dorothy thinks she can march her skinny as* up in here and destroy me?’ The group are now under the rule of Evillene as Dorothy begins to argue with her as she says: ‘You know what? Blige says she welcomes the change, at least. “It’s nice to do something like this,” she said last month, “instead of playing some singer.” Bring the laughs.

You ain’t even got game enough to be wicked, you’re just plain old, everyday, passable mean.’ Evillene says, ‘Before you go casting shade I’d take yourself a good look in the mirror,’ then it will be over if she gives back her sister’s shoes but Dorothy refused as she made a promise. Last year, Walken created some unintentional comedy in “Peter Pan Live!” (try watching him shuffle through “a hook for every boy” and not laughing). Evillene then says she is going to eat the lion when Dorothy splashes water on the witch, who gets electrocuted and dies, as Dorothy says: ‘Oh lord, I did it again.’ They go back to The Wiz’s palace as they speak to a big statue who says that they cannot grant the wish, the group proceeds to pull the plug on the statue as they find ‘The Wiz’ dressed up in a robe as they find out she is a phony and actually a woman. This is a different experience — there’s a lot of rehearsals in front of the people who know the show, and then a performance in front of everyone who doesn’t. “It is weird.

It’s a little scary because usually the audience informs you immediately if something doesn’t work, and we won’t have that,” he said. “But it’s also less scary once we start because you don’t have the time to sit back and wonder how it lands. There are just too many factors — live performance, musical theater, much of the country watching at once — for there not to be some hate-tweeting going on.

Last year brought a bounty of such posts, and from some famous people as well — Josh Gad (“#ChristopherWalken is literally doing the best #Walken impression I’ve ever seen”) or Sarah Michelle Gellar (“I wonder what next years live musical will be?? That was all possible thanks to three different sets, which the production treated with a certain fungibility, moving crew and performers between them throughout the night. It reduced the blocking logistics, though whether it retains the feeling of authentic movement that one expects on television (and that one needs to not feel like they’re watching a PBS telecast) remains to be seen.

When talking to a reporter last month about a show at the longstanding New Jersey theater the Paper Mill Playhouse, said journalist innocently asked which role she played. “Oh, I wasn’t in it,” Williams said. “I went to see it with my high school class.” Yes, Williams will be performing in her first professional job ever with 10 million people watching.

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