After last week’s scheduled stream of ‘Peter Pan Live!’ was cancelled in solidarity with protests for racial equality around the world, The Shows Must Go On! streaming series is back. This week, it’s moved on to some far superior entertainment: NBC’s joyous 2015 live broadcast of ‘The Wiz’, starring Ne-Yo, Queen Latifah and Mary J. Blige.
The show streams on YouTube today, Friday June 12, from 7pm BST (2pm EDT, 4am AEST). Viewers will have 48 hours to watch the show.
‘The Wiz Live!’: what to expect
An African-American spin on ‘The Wizard of Oz’, ‘The Wiz’ was a hit on Broadway in 1975 and was adapted into a 1978 Diana Ross film that has grown in public affection. The musical holds a special place in many hearts, but some of its ’70s trappings have not aged well. There are many ways that ‘The Wiz Live!’ could have gone wrong – but instead, it bursts strongly right out of the Kansas-farm gate. The first number is a ballad for Aunt Em, played here by Stephanie Mills, who originated the role of Dorothy on Broadway. In the first of the evening’s many memorable musical performances, Mills knocks the song out of the cornfield. It’s an inspired bit of casting: a respectful nod to history and nostalgia that also sends a message about the values of the broadcast. This isn’t bringing ‘The Wiz’ to America; this is bringing America to ‘The Wiz’.
That self-confidence in what ‘The Wiz Live!’ has to offer is palpable throughout the show, which is directed by Kenny Leon and Matthew Diamond. The 18-year-old Shanice Williams makes an impressively poised debut as Dorothy, and sings superbly. Elijah Kelley offers a sweet, limber, comically original performance as the Scarecrow. Mary J. Blige seems to have a ball as the wicked Evilene; Uzo Aduba, in an intense late cameo as the beneficent Glinda, is a glory of magical realness. Glamorous costumes (by Paul Tazewell) and makeup (by Dave and Lou Elsey) give the proceedings a sense of theatrical event; there is even a vaguely Ziegfeld-ish sequence with beautiful chorus girls as flowers. And the camera stays still enough to let the staging and choreography do their own work.
Not everything goes off without a hitch, but ‘The Wiz’s funky, familiar score by Charlie Smalls – augmented by a zippy, TV-theme-song-like new Act I closer by Ne-Yo, who is also a solid Tin Man – keeps the energy high. (Also in the cast are David Alan Grier as the Lion, Amber Riley as a kindly witch and Queen Latifah at the title character.) Problems in William F. Brown’s script, ‘The Wiz’s weakest link, are minimised in Harvey Fierstein’s extensive rewrite, which finds clever ways to keep Dorothy at the centre of the story. The whole thing seems less self-conscious about being a musical than NBC's earlier live broadcasts of ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘Peter Pan’ had been. It has the heart, brains and courage to take its own road, proving once again that musical theatre works best when it believes in itself.
‘The Wiz Live!’ will be available on YouTube for 48 hours starting June 12 at 7pm BST (2pm EDT, 4am AEST). This broadcast will not be viewable in Asia or in Latin America, except Brazil. Watch it here:
And here’s our full guide to the best theatre to watch at home.