When the 1975 Tony-winning Broadway musical The Wiz was adapted to the big screen by director Sidney Lumet, he recruited some of music's biggest stars to headline the film — including Diana Ross as Dorothy, Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, and Lena Horne as Glinda. Naturally, for its 2015 update of the L. Frank Baum-inspired show, NBC similarly pursued some of today's hottest performers to follow the Yellow Brick Road to Oz. The cast of The Wiz Live! is a veritable who's-who of famous faces, containing everything from Academy Award nominees to multiple Grammy winners, from Emmy-winning TV stars to acclaimed Broadway veterans.
When The Wiz Live! airs on NBC this Thursday, it will be the third live musical production the Peacock Network has produced, following 2014's Peter Pan Live! (starring Allison Williams and Christopher Walken) and 2013's inaugural The Sound Of Music Live! (starring Carrie Underwood). While FOX revs up its own live musical with January's Grease Live (starring Aaron Tveit and Julianne Hough), NBC is ready to take us over the rainbow with their amazing cast — oh, and with a whole troop of Cirque du Soleil performers to add some extra pizzazz to the proceedings, as well. (NBC is pulling out all the stops on this one.)
Here's who you'll be easing on down the road with this Thursday night:
Shanice Williams as Dorothy Gale
The sole newcomer among the production's main cast, Williams was cast as Dorothy after an open call audition and an intensive series of callbacks. Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron were looking for a newcomer to play the girl swept to Oz, and they found her in this 18-year-old New Jersey native. When they decided to cast Williams, Zadan and Meron pranked the young woman by calling her back into the room, telling her they needed to re-sing her callback due to mic trouble... only to deliver the good news instead.
Queen Latifah as The Wizard
Latifah dropped her debut hip hop album, All Hail The Queen, in 1989. In the 26 years since then, she has been nominated for seven Grammys (winning one), two Emmys (winning one), two Golden Globes (winning one), and one Oscar for her performance as Mama Morton in 2002's Best Picture-winning musical Chicago. (She lost to her own co-star, Catherine Zeta-Jones.) More recently, you may have seen her hosting her own talk show for CBS Television, appearing on the big screen in the likes of Joyful Noise and 22 Jump Street, or starring on HBO in the acclaimed TV movie Bessie . This is also Latifah's second time going over the rainbow, having previously starred as Aunt Em in ABC's 2005 TV movie The Muppets' Wizard Of Oz.
Mary J. Blige as Evillene
To play their Wicked Witch of the West, NBC drafted this R&B superstar, who holds an impressive 31 Grammy nominations and nine trophies to date. Blige is one of only a few musicians in history to have produced eight albums that attained multi-platinum status, and Rolling Stone has called her 1994 album My Life one of the "greatest albums of all time." The Wiz isn't the singers first foray into acting, either; she made her acting debut in a 1998 episode of The Jamie Foxx Show, and has since appeared in both TV (30 Rock, Empire) and movies (I Can Do Bad All By Myself, Rock Of Ages).
Uzo Aduba as Glinda
Fun fact: Aduba, who plays the Good Witch of the South, is the only actress in history to win Emmys in both Comedy and Drama categories for the same role. The Orange Is The New Black actress won the Supporting Actress in a Drama trophy this year for her role as Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren in the Netflix prison series — the same role for which she won Best Guest Actress in a Comedy two years ago. The TV star will soon break out onto the big screen, with two upcoming feature films in 2016: Tallulah, a dramedy starring Ellen Page, Allison Janney, and Zachary Quinto; and American Pastoral, a crime drama directed by and starring Ewan McGregor.
Amber Riley as Addaperle
The Good Witch of the North is portrayed by this former Glee star, who belted out showstopper after showstopper for six years on the FOX musical as diva-in-training Mercedes Jones. Addaperle will only be Riley's second onscreen acting role, although she has appeared as herself on the likes of RuPaul's Drag Race, The View, The Queen Latifah Show, and Season 17 of Dancing With The Stars , which she won alongside dance partner Derek Hough.
Elijah Kelley as The Scarecrow
Kelley has big shoes to fill, playing the same role performed by Michael Jackson in the 1978 movie version of The Wiz. But judging from Kelley's performance as Seaweed J. Stubbs in the 2007 feature film adaptation of Broadway musical Hairspray, he'll do just fine. The actor's other credits include the 2000 Sandra Bullock dramedy 28 Days (his onscreen debut), 2006 dance drama Take The Lead, and 2013 historical biopic Lee Daniel's The Butler.
Ne-Yo as Tinman
This R&B singer's first album, In My Own Words, went platinum when he dropped it in 2006. Since then, he has been nominated for 13 Grammys, picking up three trophies along the way. He made his acting debut the same year as his first album, in the direct-to-video sequel Save The Last Dance 2. His other onscreen credits include 2012's Red Tails (alongside Elijah Kelley), 2015's Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, and an episode of FOX's Empire as himself.
David Alan Grier as The Cowardly Lion
Although Grier has been acting for over three decades, with 100 credits to his name, he's still probably most famous for his starring role on the sketch comedy series In Living Color, which ran on FOX for five seasons from 1990-1994. If that doesn't ring a bell, then maybe you'd recognize him as befuddled cop Carl Bentley in the classic adventure movie Jumanji. Grier's other film credits include the 1984 Best Picture nominee A Soldier's Story and the 2013 comedy Peeples — as well as The Muppets' Wizard Of Oz, where he appeared as Uncle Henry opposite Queen Latifah's Aunt Em.
Common as The Bouncer
Before Dorothy can visit the Wizard, she'll have to get through Common's intimidating Bouncer. The 16-time Grammy nominee (and two-time winner) recently added "Academy Award winner" in front of his name — but not as an actor; the hip hop artist took home the Oscar (and the Golden Globe) last year for writing the song "Glory" for Ava DuVernay's Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic Selma. The singer broke into the acting scene in 2002 and has since appeared in a bevy of action movies, including Smokin' Aces, Wanted, Terminator Salvation, and Run All Night, in addition to the upcoming comic book adaptation Suicide Squad and Keanu Reeves sequel John Wick 2. Common has also been a series regular on all four seasons of AMC's western series Hell On Wheels as freed slave Elam Ferguson.
Stephanie Mills as Aunt Em
Mills returns to The Wiz exactly four decades after originating the role of Dorothy in the 1975 Broadway production of the musical. (She also starred in the same role in the 1984 Broadway revival.) Her other Broadway credits include 1970's Purlie and 1997's Children Of Eden. The stage actress is also a recording artist, having produced 16 albums over the past 40 years, earning three Grammy nominations and one win.
Catch this incredibly talented cast live in action this Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC!
Images: Paul Gilmore/NBC (11)