“The Wiz: Live!” Review

by Tramon Lucas, Campus News Editor

The Wiz: Live! was a vibrant wall of sound that was equally matched with a two-dimensional soundstage full of colorful and technichal effects that brought the magic of the story to life. With an all-star cast of veteran entertainers and new music for a new generation, there was a new face that added to the modern day telling of The Wiz and that face belonged to Shanice Williams.

Williams auditioned for the role of Dorothy for the experience only, as she was on break from college. Her first starring role on television along with a surprise performance from David Alan Grier (if you didn’t know his Broadway background), the mindless dance moves of Elijah Kelley as The Scarecrow and Ne-Yo’s soulful singing made the two hour showing (along with commercial breaks) worth the watch.

11 million viewers watched as we went on a journey of self discovery and exploration of home in Dorothy’s imagination. Not knowng what to expect from the cast, the modern day version helped direct viewers from the past into the present; meaning you didn’t have to watch the iconic theatrical version of The Wiz or even see the original Broadway play from 1975 to enjoy the story.

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With this new smart and edgy version of The Wiz, the criticism from older generations was expected as all eyes were on Williams’ performance but equally to Kelley’s performance of The Scarecrow, of course made famous by the late “King of Pop” Michael Jackson in the cinematic  adaption. Kelley’s dancing and at times scene-stealing one-liner jokes added to the innocence of the scarecrow. His singing was also something critics would watch more closely, but Kelley’s vocal range sufficed enough through the show, along with his stylish costume.
Ne-Yo became Tin Woodsman and brought his 10-year solo career style to the role, with of course his stylish hat which is what he is also known for. Ne-Yo’s rendition of “If I Could Feel” sung by his rusted character adds an emotional appeal that may not have been expressed by previous actors (no shade to Nipsey Russell). One thing that was odd was the surprise that David Alan Grier could actually…act.
For those that may not know, Grier has a background in Broadway musicals as he starred as Jackie Robinson in the 1981 musical The First. Yes, before his In Living Color fame, Grier was Tony nominee and a Yale Drama School graduate. Grier’s performace as a “mean ol’ lion” who has a small coward sense to him was mixed with humor and lively vocals. Instead of curls this Cowardly Lion came with dreds and more dance moves than expected.

As for the other notable names in the cast, Stephanie Mills (who originally played Dorothy in the Broadway hit) was casted as Aunt Em who tries to remind young Dorothy of love and home, also acting as a guide for Dorothy (like Mills guiding Williams through this role maybe?).
Amber Riley, who some may know from Glee almost stole the show with her high range of vocal talent along with the screen presence as the Good Witch of the North that you couldn’t help but smile at. Common, the “club” like bouncer to high fashion Emerald City was interesting, but I found myself asking “was this role really needed?”

Mary J. Blige’s portrayal of The Wicked Witch of the West wasn’t as believable as you would think. The “No Bad News” singing was there but the acting wasn’t as strong as some would hope or expect. And Uzo Aduba was nothing but good as she brought her own style to her role as Glinda the Good Witch. Aduba proved that gold is the new black as her costume added to the magic of Glinda. Aduba is also a Broadway veteran so her belting notes on “Believe in Yourself” was no surprise.

And Queen Latifah’s Oz role was one that was funny but intriguing. A woman who posed as a male playing the great and powerful Oz was a nice spin on the storyline but Latifah’s singing background as we have heard in her music and earlier this year in Bessie weren’t present in her performance, but she brought a different flare and demand as Oz.

All in all, The Wiz: Live! was amazing to watch from start to finish. Regardless of just a few minor visible mistakes, is a must-see production, hats off to the production team and a single acknowledgement to Fatima Robinson who choreographed the show.

Seeing this present day, hip-hop style of The Wiz was necessary. The odd criticism and question of “How would Black people feel if there was an ‘All White Cast’ of The Wiz?” was asinine, because an “All White Cast” of The Wizard of Oz happened already…in 1939…making it the original.

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