‘The Wiz Live!’ on NBC with Shanice Williams as Dorothy and Queen Latifah as The Wizard of Oz marked the third annual live television production, preceded by ‘Peter Pan Live’ and ‘The Sound of Music Live.’ The tradition continues with social media and critics alike weighing in. Was this third time around the charm? See a roundup of reviews and video highlights right here!
Yes, the exclamation marks are built right into the titles! Live musicals on television, so ubiquitous in the 1950s are now suddenly quite the rage in the 2010s! This time around, NBC has taken the 1975 Tony-winning musical ‘The Wiz’ which saw Stephanie Mills bring Dorothy to life, and given it a new life. Yes, with help from legendary playwright Harvey Fierstein updating William F. Brown original script for our contemporary times, we had quite a musical festival. And giving the staging an uplift and some acrobatics, literally, none other than Cirque du Soleil.
Well, the credentials on paper looked awesome and, as the live evening played out, those on social media — Twitter especially where, as expected #TheWiz was trending throughout and long thereafter — looking the chance to settle into the usual hate-fest were quite disappointed. There was in fact very little to complain about. This wasn’t a trainwreck by any means, as more than a few felt that both ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘Peter Pan Live.’
Yes, the cast was amazing. Queen Latifah as The Wizard of Oz was something one simply had to see. And David Alan Grier as the Cowardly Lion was a much-welcomed scene stealer. And the newcomer Shanice Williams was a standout as Dorothy. She was such an unknown that a search for red carpet photos and biography turned up virtually zip when she was first cast. Needless to say, she’s made a meteroric leap to notoriety and recognition. And rounding out the stellar cast, Mary J. Blige, Amber Riley, Uzo Aduba and others.
Now in the aftermath, the television critics are having their say, and much like social media, they’re giving mostly favorable reviews, and making the expected comparisons to the previous productions. Here’s a roundup.
“….And that’s how you put on a show! The Wiz Live! may be NBC’s third attempt at staging a live musical, but it’s the first one that worked without any caveats necessary. I was kinder to The Sound Of Music Live! and Peter Pan Live! than most critics because I felt there was a lot of potential in the idea of staging live musical theater. Tonight NBC proved my faith was well placed with a musical event that was finally worth watching and not just hate-watching……” The A.V. Club
“….Our favorite serial killing shoe thief eased on down the road with her brainless, heartless, cowardly friends in an uneven production that was still the best NBC has put on yet. […] Though, like any three-hour production that slogs through an already too-busy holiday season, there were times that we wished we could click our heel three times and make the whole thing end, there’s no denying The Wiz was NBC’s best live musical yet……” The Daily Beast
“….On the surface, the all-black production fit with television’s newly discovered diversity mandate (really? Not only white people watch television?!) but even deeper than that it managed to put a fresh spin on a classic story that’s been retold time and again through various generations. Learning from the past two productions, producers also managed to ditch the kitsch this time around, relying on beautiful performances from Cirque du Soleil to transition viewers into that wonderful world of Oz rather than cheesy smoke effects and extra glitter……” The Wrap
“…Phenomenal star casting and a young newcomer with killer vocal chops and eyes ripe for close-ups made Thursday night’s telecast of The Wiz Live! NBC’s smoothest outing yet in what should become a holiday tradition. With a few nods to the 1975 Broadway original and some updating that didn’t seem necessary for the previous ventures — last year’s Peter Pan and The Sound Of Music, which launched the idea in 2013 — The Wiz Live! unfolded without any apparent hitches under the direction of Kenny Leon and choreographer Fatima Robinson. ….” — Deadline
“….So now we know: It’s much easier to successfully stage a famous musical on live television if you cast a group of multi-talented, high-energy and personally kinetic performers who know how to own the spectacle rather than the other way around. Oh, and get Cirque de Soleil involved if at all possible….” — L.A. Times
“….That 1975 Tony award notwithstanding, “The Wiz” isn’t among the greatest of musicals, but practically speaking, it was certainly a shrewd choice for NBC’s third annual live extravaganza: Not only is it a family project, but its star-studded African-American cast created the prospect of attracting demographics that might have passed on the more-grounded-than-hoped-for “Peter Pan.” Graced with fitful acrobatics courtesy of Cirque Du Soleil, the production exploded with color and impressive vocal performances. Yet the producers still haven’t fully overcome the somewhat ironic challenge of how to make these live presentations consistently exhibit sparks of life..….” — Variety
“…. Unable to do worse than nit-pick the sort of minor technical struggles that are nearly inevitable in a live, one-night-only full-scale musical with a cast of hundreds, this was the first time it was possible to just sit back and purely enjoy a new generation NBC musical and hope the first lesson producers learn for next year’s show is to bring back director Kenny Leon and especially choreographer Fatima Robinson, who did such a fine job you can bet they’re both already imagining how they could do it better…..” — The Hollywood Reporter
“…. The one truly eye-opening moment came in an interlude at the Emerald City. Men and women did some serious ballroom vogueing in lighting from the House of Tron. It was progressive and inclusive, on the one hand, and deeply natural, on the other. Queen Latifah arrives as the Wiz, whose power — in her interpretation — seemed to come from her fabulous androgyny. This Emerald City was a place of conceptual ingenuity, and it made me feel greedy for more..….” — The New York Times
NBC has released official video of all of the musical performances on YouTube and you can catch all of the highlights including ‘Ease on Down the Road’ and ‘Brand New Day’ and more below!
Pictures: PR Photos