The Wiz Live! proved that NBC can actually do right by a musical, with the help of a talented group of performers. One stand-out crew happened to be Evillene's minions, and if you were impressed with their acrobatics, you weren't alone, so just who were the Winged Warriors in The Wiz Live! ? Well, it shouldn't be too surprising that with Cirque du Soleil co-producing NBC's live event, those doing Evillene's bidding were played by Cirque du Soleil performers.
Director of The Wiz Live!, Kenny Leon, told Playbill that in addition to the tornado scene that takes Dorothy to Oz, "We have another cirque moment — we call it 'The Winged Warriors' — when the Winged Warriors, these flying animals, fly. Some of them dance, and some of them are on those bionic legs that [they] can flip [on] and land on their legs."
Those bionic legs were a new addition to the musical, and a major reason why these evil dudes were so fascinating to watch as they did Mary J. Blige's bidding. In the same interview, Leon explained another change, that of the Winged Warriors' name, as they were originally called "Flying Monkeys" in both The Wiz and The Wizard of Oz.
"They [wrote] a lot of things [with] racial connotations, like the crows and the monkeys, because those were political [statements] ... I think our world is different now, so flying monkeys, in my way of thinking, takes you out of the story because you're thinking about something negative. So it's like, 'You've got a bunch of black people, and they're flying around, and you call them monkeys,' and that's not the mess I want to get in, so [teleplay writer] Harvey [Fierstein] came up with the term Winged Warriors."
This was an effective way to modernize the show and leave out negative connotations, but no matter what their name, the Cirque performers definitely had skills.
Having Cirque du Soleil as a partner on the NBC musical added another dimension to the old song-and-dance routine (no offense to song and dance), so I hope the company will stick around and add their tricks to next year's live show.
Image: Virginia Sherwood/NBC