This Thursday, NBC will embark on the third installment of its annual live staged musical programming, delivering unto us The Wiz Live!. This live event is already looking promising, especially when compared to last year's Peter Pan Live!, and the equally lackluster 2013 special, The Sound of Music Live!. While I hope you're planning to tune in, it shouldn't be solely because you're a fan of a certain Judy Garland movie. The Wiz and The Wizard of Oz are very different, and NBC's adaptation may even feature additional changes. This, my friends, is not the same old ruby slipper skip down the yellow brick road.
By now, you must be familiar with the Land of Oz created by L. Frank Baum, whether the introduction was made through the 1939 Wizard of Oz; the supremely well-cast 1978 movie adaptation of The Wiz, starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson; or the crazy-popular Broadway retelling, Wicked. We think we’ve seen every side you can see of this fairytale land, where monkeys can fly and evil green witches melt like fro-yo on a hot summer’s day, but where The Wiz is certainly based in the familiar, it has some distinctly awesome differences. Let’s break this down.
It Has An All-Black Cast
This is especially important to The Wiz Live! director Kenny Leon, who told USA Today, "It's important that Dorothy is an African-American girl, that girls of color can find themselves in this story. With where we are right now in this country in terms of understanding each other racially, it's important to get this story out." NBC cast newcomer Shanice Williams as Dorothy for its musical, and the cast is filled out with many famous faces, such as Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Common, and Elijah Kelly.
The Music Doesn't Go "Over The Rainbow"
Though there are elements borrowed from old classics like "Follow The Yellow Brick Road," The Wiz has its own distinctive soundtrack of original songs. The Wiz Live! will take that originality a step further, incorporating hip hop beats and modern choreography, according to The Daily Beast.
Dorothy Is Strong
The Wiz Live! won’t portray Dorothy as a victim trapped in a strange land, as writer Harvey Fierstein told The Daily Beast he wanted to retool the script to give Dorothy more agency. Here, Dorothy questions why she is doing what she's doing instead of just floating along and needing her friends to carry her.
The Wiz Is A Woman
This is actually brand new to The Wiz Live!, as not only was the Wizard a man in The Wizard of Oz, but so was The Wiz on Broadway and on screen, where he was played by Richard Pryor. For NBC's take, however, Queen Latifah plays The Wiz, who, according to E! Online, blew into Oz in a balloon during a snowstorm and uses her powers to convince people that she's a lot more formidable than she actually is.
The Shoes Are Silver
Those coveted heels that Dorothy has to click together to get home? No longer ruby! In all iterations of The Wiz, the shoes are a gleaming silver, which actually adheres to the description in Baum's original 1900 novel. Raise your hand if you want a pair for the holiday parties you’ll be forced to attend, when you’d rather be at home watching The Wiz Live!
If you weren't already looking forward to catching The Wiz Live! on Thursday at 8 p.m. already, I have a feeling learning about its changes to the Oz story did the trick.
Images: Virginia Sherwood (4), NBC Universal, Paul Gilmore/NBC