The Wiz is one of entertainment’s greatest and most beloved treasures. Not often does a musical come along that takes a classic story and gives it a spin that is both energetic and incredibly fun but this one does. 1974 saw the first performance of The Wiz and over the years, it has developed a strong cult following, including a popular film in 1978. With an all black cast which included music legends Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, it is an extremely fun adventure and the soundtrack is something to marvel at as well. In 2015, NBC brought The Wiz back over three decades later, and audiences have recently been treated to a live performance that will linger in your memory for quite some time afterward. The source material and most of the music remains the same and once again, we are taken on one heck of a journey.
If you have been living under a rock or are not interested in the story of The Wizard of Oz, The Wiz focuses on Dorothy (newcomer Shanice Williams), a young farm girl who gets magically transported to a land where she must venture through and encounter The Wiz (Queen Latifah) in order to get back home. Along the way, Dorothy meets Addaperle, the Good Witch of the North (Amber Riley), Glinda, the Good Witch of the South (Uzo Aduba), the Scarecrow (Elijah Kelley), the Tin Man (Ne-Yo), the Cowardly Lion (David Alan Grier), and of course, the Wicked Witch of the West (Mary J. Blige). Even Common and Cirque du Soleil participate and only serve to enhance the quality of the already strong production. All in all, it is a spirited cast and one of the strongest in The Wiz‘s history.
As for the music, not much has changed and that is for the best since it is a legendary and funky fun fest of a soundtrack. The “Prologue” sets the mood wonderfully with bits of the main songs presented. “The Feeling We Once Had” is a throaty and bittersweet number performed by Stephanie Mills and the ensemble. This is followed by some 70s style flavor in the instrumental “Tornado”. There is more funk in “He’s the Wizard” (Amber Riley, ensemble) and “Soon As I Get Home” (Shanice Williams) has a pleasant Disney-like feel to it. “You Can’t Win” (Elijah Kelley, male ensemble) and “Ease on Down the Road” (most of the principal cast) are destined to remind listeners of the original show and film and their presence here is more than welcome.
The next few tracks are serviceable but not great. David Alan Grier should stick to comedy because his singing in “Mean Ole Lion” isn’t the best. Queen Latifah’s “So You Wanted to See the Wizard” is a bombastic mambo-like piece and is actually one of the album’s highlights. “We Got It” is a fantastic group effort and is really quite inspirational. This track is followed by another funky song in “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News” (Mary J. Blige, ensemble), which sounds a lot like the soundtrack from Disney’s Hercules. The remainder of the album is a hefty helping of soul and optimism, a great album for audiences of all kinds.
NBC is certainly on the yellow brick road to success by reimagining classic musicals for the 21st century. They started things off nicely in 2013 with The Sound of Music Live! and continued the next year with Peter Pan Live!. This year, we have The Wiz Live! and it doesn’t look like NBC is stopping anytime soon (Grease Live! is next for 2016). These live shows are gimmicky, for sure, but she are wholesome and full of strong entertainment value. Young audiences seem to be eating this stuff up and that’s great because these musicals are meant to entertain, young audiences and the older audiences who take a trip down memory lane every December courtesy of NBC.