TV Ratings: ‘The Wiz Live!’ Flies Higher Than ‘Peter Pan’

4 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Wiz Live!’: 5 best moments from NBC’s live musical event.

Shanice Williams took the stage in NBC’s production of The Wiz Live! on Thursday and stunned with her turn as Dorothy, earning particular acclaim for her performance of “Home.” The 19-year-old newcomer inspired new love for the Charlie Smalls-penned song 40 years after it was first featured in the 1970s Broadway production. 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.

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. Its first and second attempts, a highly rated Carrie Underwood-starring version of The Sound of Music and a much less highly rated Allison Williams-starring version of Peter Pan, were novelty items, mediocre productions with a cozy kitsch appeal ripe for hate-tweeting that made Broadway productions, any Broadway production, look unfathomably accomplished. 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.

Enter Thursday night’s excellent The Wiz, a staging of the 1975 musical (turned into a 1978 movie starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson) that is an all-black reimagining of The Wizard of Oz. 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. The Wiz single-handedly revived the live-musical concept, making the first two times out look like dress rehearsals—or, really, early rehearsal days when no one knows their lines or the choreography yet.

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.” As much as Dorothy wants to go home, the Scarecrow needs a brain, the Tin-Man desires a heart, or the Cowardly Lion longs for a spine, NBC coveted a hit: The Wizard delivered. While there’s an ongoing social media debate as to who had the better moves, the Scarecrow or Tin Man, Ne-Yo certainly rocked the classic robot dance that surely had audiences cheering from their living rooms. This R&B legend proved she has theatrical chops as well when she put on a show-stopping performance of the song “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News.” “I’m going to keep it classic and keep it close to what it is, but I’m going to definitely bring some ‘Mary J. If that’s a boon to NBC’s bottom-line—the advertising during The Wiz was aimed so squarely at black audiences that when an ad aired for Wicked, another Wizard of Oz–inspired entertainment, it seemed like this—it’s also a boon to its audience.

Whatever its ratings out to be, this production was a huge win for quality—proof, which had not previously existed, that one can stage a live TV musical and have it be excellent, not just an event. As for Dorothy’s friends, one was better than the next, from Elijah Kelley’s sweet, jittery Scarecrow, to Ne-Yo’s soulful Tin Man, to David Alan Grier’s terrific Cowardly Lion. You could see it in the make-up, in the Wizard’s (Queen Latifah) green contouring, the purple swoops flaring off Blige’s eyes, the rusting silver on the Tin Man’s face. Unlike last year’s Peter Pan, The Wiz is a satisfyingly straightforward tale: A girl on a quest to get home, no psychedelic, phallic alligators or digressions to watch a bunch of pirates dance.

The propulsive narrative helps an audiences over the speed bump at the very beginning of these live musicals, the rhythm of which takes a little getting used to.

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