The Wiz Live! producers Craig Zadan & Neil Meron reflect on next-day success …

5 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Wiz Live!’ was the blackest thing on television Thursday night — in more ways than one.

Shanice Williams had big sparkly slippers to fill when she stepped into the role of Dorothy for NBC’s broadcast of “The Wiz Live!” on Thursday night. Thursday’s staging of The Wiz Live! on NBC was a big success for the network with over 11 million viewers, strong reviews, and a huge reaction on social media.NEW YORK (AP) — NBC’s new holiday tradition of presenting a live musical production seems on firmer ground after an estimated 11.5 million people watched “The Wiz,” with interest rebounding from last year’s “Peter Pan.” The production more than doubled NBC’s typical audience for a Thursday night despite CBS airing a down-to-the-wire NFL game as competition.

This made the network’s adaptation based on the 1975 Broadway show “The Wiz” the second best non-sports Thursday night for the Peacock network in six years.Two years after NBC stunned the industry with boffo ratings for its live presentation of “The Sound of Music,” the network was back at it Thursday night with “The Wiz Live,” which drew impressive numbers of its own. EW talked to producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron about the great reaction, taking the show to Broadway in 2016 and what their next live musical will be. One of the most buzzed-about topics of discussion post-airing is Orange is the New Black star Uzo Aduba as Glinda the Good Witch, shutting the show down in the 11 o’clock torch song “Believe in Yourself” (proving that of course Crazy Eyes can sing) in a stunning gold dress by costume designer Paul Tazewell.

The event also set a Nielsen Twitter record as most social live special program in the more than four years of tracking such numbers — generating more reactions than NBC’s two prior musicals combined. They were all the more impressed because she’s making her professional debut at only 19, and she had to hold her own with a cast that included Mary J.

Two years ago, NBC surprised the television industry by reaching 18.6 million people for its production of “The Sound of Music” with Carrie Underwood. Tazewell, also the costume designer for Broadway hit Hamilton, described Aduba’s costume as “a Grounded Ball of Light.” Much like Aduba herself, it seems. But more than just having black people in these roles (the production is a retelling of “The Wizard of Oz” that was at one time both a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical and a movie — with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson), the show succeeded in further modernizing a tale already beloved by mostly black audiences — which can be a big task in the world of Black Twitter.

Blige, Queen Latifah, and Ne-Yo. (“Your world is about to ‘change its face’ but I know where you’re going…as far and as high as you want,” Audra McDonald tweeted to her.) Ms. We wanted this to be a really good morning for us and we wanted to really make sure that this tradition has legs to continue and I think this morning proves that there is an audience for these live musicals. The other big takeaway from the event? 19-year-old newcomer Shanice Williams nailed her portrayal of Dorothy with the ease of a stage and screen veteran, assuring her future superstardom.

With delayed and on-demand viewing becoming more the norm in TV households across the country, NBC’s “The Wiz” showed that live TV can still bring in a big audience. “Yes, as you might expect, there were some glitches: a stray camera, a balky effect, some moments of empty sound — and a missing in action Toto,” wrote Robert Bianco, USA Today’s TV critic. “But that’s part and parcel of doing and paying for live TV on this ambitious a scale. Blige and David Alan Grier, averaged a 3.4 rating/11 share in adults 18-49 and about 11.5 million viewers overall from 8 to 10:45 p.m., according to preliminary Nielsen estimates. USA Today’s review of the musical sums it up in saying, “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.”

For the last month, she has been living in a hotel on Long Island, near the studio where the production rehearsed and shot, and commuting on weekends back to her mother’s house in Rahway, N.J., where she grew up. The 3.4 demo rating is 42% above that earned by last year’s live musical presentation of “Peter Pan” (2.4/7 in 18-49, 9.21 million viewers overall). Nielsen also said that 1.6 million individual tweets were sent out about the broadcast — far more than the previous two musicals, which both generated between 400,000 and 500,000 tweets.

There was much online discussion about “The Wiz” having an all-black cast from people who may have been unaware that the 1970s-era musical and movie had a black cast, too. Much like it is when Phylicia Rashad or Loretta Devine or Cicely Tyson pop up in a film, or old R&B groups like New Edition or SWV give the performance of their lives at the BET Awards, it’s always great to see they’ve still got it. Williams, that may mean Broadway — “The Wiz” is scheduled for a theatrical run next year and Broadway “has always been my dream,” she said. (Her newly acquired manager is in negotiations on her next project, details of which she couldn’t reveal.) But first, “I’m going to check out of this hotel and go home,” she said in a phone interview on Friday. “I’m excited to see my friends and my family and get my body back together, and relax.” A. And Mills deserves all the awards: skin evidence that “black don’t crack,” voice still smooth like buttah and acting as if an Oscar were on the other side of the commercial break. While the overall household average in Nielsen’s 56 metered markets was 7.9, the top scores came in Richmond (16.1), Norfolk (15.0), Baltimore (14.8), Washington, D.C. (13.2) and Atlanta (13.2).

And according to social media analyst company Canvs, “The Wiz” drew four times as many reactions per minute than “Peter Pan” (792 vs. 178) and more than three times as many as “Sound of Music” (238). Yeeesss, oh my goodness, our director Kenny [Leon], he feels like if you’re gonna pray, don’t worry, and if you’re gonna worry, go pray, so we had a huge prayer that just touched everyone. But with live, televised theater, that efficiency can be tricky: How do you reduce potential stage hazards and not look like you’re putting on a school play?

In glittering green, men and women paid homage to the underground ballroom community of primarily black and Latino gay and transgender men and women, the inspiration behind Madonna’s 1990 hit “Vogue.” And they did it justice, doling out life and life more abundantly for at-home audiences. There was one moment where I hit a weird note and I didn’t even know if anyone noticed — I think in “Ease on Down the Road.” But I just got back into it. But when MJB took center stage, the angels from on high descended. (And a tambourine player was somewhere getting her life!) True to any black church, Mary #HitTheQuan and the background dancers incorporated some stepping for the perfect blend of the religious and secular. When Tin Man (Ne-Yo), Scarecrow (Elijah Kelley) and the Lion (David Alan Grier) discovered the Wiz was a fabulous fair maiden, they seemed a little surprised. I told Ne-Yo, when I get onstage, I don’t even know who I am and when I come off I don’t even remember where I’ve been, because it’s just like a whole other person.

Roughly 30% of the sentiment was positive, 58% neutral and 13% negative — meaning the Twitter sentiment was 133% more positive than negative around the broadcast. I was like, I’m really sad this is over, but I’m not crying and then I went in the room [backstage] and everyone started clapping for me and then the tears just started falling. CBS and NFL Network combined to win the night overall, with their coverage of the NFL game between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions averaging a 12.0 overnight household rating.

It felt like you were in the tornado, and also the use of musical comedy where Fatima choreographed the dancers for the tornado, and we had flying and the digital animation … I think that was representative of something you looked at and went, “Wow. Williams is a teenage rookie from New Jersey, with a medium-size voice, who was stuck in an unflattering plaid skirt and was never sure how much street spunk to inject. She began one explanation by using the phrase, “What had happened was,” which meant that what had had happened was that somebody really wanted to test how many black-culture dog whistles could be blown. Like the ones about “Where’s Toto?” and all of these memes about Emerald City, whenever the celebs are wearing green and talking about getting [into] V.I.P. in Emerald City — they had us dying. ZADAN: My favorite song in the whole show and it’s always been that way since I was a kid and saw this show on Broadway is “Be a Lion.” That number just kills me.

Pause the protests and prosecutions, and watch a projection of a house fall like a crashing screensaver, as wires yank Dorothy into the air, and dancers dressed like samurai klansmen impersonate the twister. Blige, playing Queen Evelline, lightly hits the quan toward the end of her big number, “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News.” Witness the evident effectiveness of her I’ll-cut-you camp. There really was no bad news in this world, beyond Blige’s singing only once. (When she belts here, it was to leave a welt.) Come to NBC and feel good.The original show went up during a brief watershed for new black Broadway musicals. “Purlie,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Dreamgirls,” “Raisin,” “Bubbling Brown Sugar,” “Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies,” and “Your Arms Too Short to Box With God” all happened in the early-to-mid 1970s. She’s been handling this with utmost grace with confidence, with kind of supernatural calmness that you’d think she knows she’s playing out her destiny. It was set in Harlem, had Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, and was itself an adaptation of the original show, which committed the same neutralization of L.

Fans of the stage show were irritated that a 33-year-old Diana Ross was cast as Dorothy instead of Stephanie Mills, the petite teenage powerhouse who had originated the part on Broadway. (Mills, who became an essential R&B star in the 1980s, now plays Aunt Em in the NBC version, and her phrasing has lost none of its musculature.) But the film was a peculiar study of urban melancholy in general and of Ross’ blackness in particular. ZADAN: Kenny always felt like when The Wiz tells them they have to go off and kill the witch that this was a place that was crying out for a musical number. Kenny has some expression I’ll paraphrase badly: “He’s taken 1975 and pushed it to 2020 and somewhere in the middle is now.” I think that’s what the attitude was about Harvey’s book, Fatima’s choreography, and the whole look of the show — it came out of a certain vision that Kenny had.

So was the climactic number, “Everybody Rejoice/A Brand New Day,” which Luther Vandross wrote and which dispelled the air of depression, turning all the ballads and minor-key songs into a major-key celebration. Are they going to say “Oh yeah, I want to go to Broadway for a year”? or will somebody say, “I’ll give you six months.” We don’t know any of that. That’s the version of “The Wiz” that NBC aired on Thursday — a balmy celebration of what should be the natural order of things: black America, unoppressed. I think for the audience that saw this on TV and you can see your favorite people live in the theater do it, I think there might be a number of great people from our show that will do it on Broadway.

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