The Wiz Live! – The latest of NBC’s live stage productions was also the first one I’ve seen. I hadn’t seen The Wiz on stage before, but I did watch the rather bizarre movie version, see a review of the songs in Central Park earlier this year, and listen to the original cast recording. Not all of the original songs were included, but more were than in the film. Since someone who could actually sing (Queen Latifah) took the title role this time, we did get to hear a few of the character’s songs, but not all of them. And the Scarecrow sang “You Can’t Win” instead of “I Was Born the Day Before Yesterday.” “You Can’t Win” was originally written to be sung by the Winkie slaves, but cut from the show, then resurrected for Michael Jackson’s Scarecrow in the movie. I’m not sure why they added a new song when they didn’t even use all of the ones that already existed, but maybe it’s like how there’s a new song in the Les Miserables movie so that it could be nominated for an Oscar. Are there awards for original songs in television productions? I’ve seen complaints about the song performances, particularly Mary J. Blige doing “Don’t Nobody Give Me No Bad News,” but I didn’t have any problems with them. I guess I’m just not as much of an audiophile.
The costumes were excellent, including totally over-the-top dresses for the witches and weird nightclub outfits for the inhabitants of the Emerald City.
Shanice Williams made a really cute Dorothy, and original Broadway Dorothy Stephanie Mills made an appearance as Aunt Em. The effects were somewhat lacking, and I should point out that I hardly expected Hollywood-level special effects from a televised stage play. It was more that the credits announced members of Cirque de Soleil, but they weren’t used particularly effectively. We didn’t even get to see the Winged Monkeys do anything. By the way, the production called the Monkeys “Winged Warriors,” perhaps due to the potential uncomfortable association with African-American actors playing monkeys. Probably not necessary, but since their role was so small, it didn’t really matter anyway. And melting Evillene just made her disappear? Maybe they should have used the acrobat budget on a trapdoor instead.
I’ve also seen complaints about the modern humor they threw in, like Addaperle saying her magic slate was an Apple product (yes, they mentioned a sponsor in the production, then had their product not work properly) and the Wiz’s giant head having an orange extension cord. While I can’t say I found them especially funny, they didn’t really bother me either. I kind of wonder how modern critics want updated productions of The Wizard of Oz to be. The story was published in 1900, the most famous movie came out in 1939, and The Wiz started in 1974. So would seventies references be acceptable, but not ones from after that? I also found it interesting that they made a few allusions to the MGM film, when I get the impression that the show was originally supposed to be totally distinct from that. Another comment I remember from Twitter is why the revelation that the Wiz was a woman was included at all, since this was a land already ruled by women.
Maybe it was sort of the equivalent of how the Wizard appeared to the Scarecrow in a supposedly female form back in the book.
Overall, I enjoyed it very much, but did it really need so many commercial breaks?