Tess Taylor testimonials a posthumous collection by Larry Levis, The Darkening Trapeze.
When NBC first regarded as bringing The Wiz Reside! to television, the network could not have identified how considerably America would want to see this.
At a time when the country is reeling from mass shootings, protests over police killing black teens, and presidential candidates railing against immigrants and refugees, there is no better time to encounter a soothing, expertly executed celebration of family, friendship and black culture.
Because, make no mistake, The Wiz that NBC brought to the air Thursday night was completely and fearlessly filled with blackness – a genuinely African American-centered take on The Wizard of Oz. From the gospel touches Glee alum Amber Riley and R&B queen Mary J. Blige brought to their roles as Very good Witch Addaperle and Poor Witch Evilene to the vogueing dance moves of folk in the Emerald City and Dorothy’s lines about her “squad” of friends.
In truth, newcomer Shanice Williams emerged as a full-fledged star Thursday. The 19-year-old New Jersey native vaulted effortlessly from the gee-whiz enthusiasm of Dorothy’s most earnest moments to the independent spirit a sister at times requirements to maintain some brothers in line.
The script, with new material penned by Harvey Fierstein, was primarily based on the Tony-winning Broadway production and not the ill-fated 1978 film. This new Wiz crackled with updated references to iPads, sushi and shade.
The list of spine tingling performances was endless. Stephanie Mills, the original Dorothy in The Wiz‘s 1975 Broadway run, returned to prove she’s still got pipes playing Auntie Em. Emmy-winner Uzo Aduba made viewers forget her turn as Crazy Eyes in Orange is the New Black with a powerhouse efficiency as Good Witch Glinda, belting out the signature tune “Think in Yourself.”
Singer/songwriter/producer Ne-Yo proved to be the breakout star as the Tin Man, with standout singing and a down-to-earth take on the metal man which was a charming callback to Nipsey Russell’s performance in the film.
Numerous times Thursday, it was the modest touches which worked very best. When Queen Latifah 1st emerged as The Wiz, Dorothy and her crew repeatedly treated the character as a man, sparking comments on the internet about Latifah playing across gender.
But when the classic scene unfolded exactly where they uncover The Wiz is a fraud, they also discover he is a she – a skillful bit of gender bending that felt like a trademark nod from Kinky Boots author Fierstein.
In a sharp contrast to the insults that filled social media during NBC’s final two live musicals – Peter Pan and the Sound of Music – love for The Wiz Live! exploded on the internet as the show progressed. “THANK YOU NBC!” producer/actor Tyler Perry tweeted. “Thx for the courage to put this on the air. I feel like I am 7 once more watching this, only from a better neighborhood.” Kristen Chenoweth, who starred in an additional Oz adaptation, Wicked, messaged, “Loving this 1!!”
More importantly, a wide range of average viewers — some of whom may be regarded members of that tastemaking group media likes to contact Black Twitter — embraced the production, too. One account named @Beautifully_C tweeted: “#TheWizLive is serving all-natural hair, black vernacular, black gays, black non gender conforming ppl…it is LITTTT.” And @dray noted: “#TheWizLive is a reminder that we are, and have usually been, much more than our discomfort. Black is joy, as well.”
The biggest difficulty with The Wiz Reside! was clumsy camerawork. Shots frequently focused also tightly on performers in the course of vital moments – particularly when particular effects such as fireworks or explosions have been deployed about them.
Commercial breaks had been also frequent and as well intrusive they felt like jarring interruptions alternatively of all-natural pauses in the action. Director Kenny Leon (A Raisin in the Sun) and the NBC crew get a few demerits for these issues.
And the lack of a studio audience, which also sucked the life out of the network’s previous reside outings of Peter Pan and Sound of Music, robbed some triumphant moments in The Wiz of a small sparkle.
It would have been great to see the cast come out for a nicely-deserved post-show curtain call. But that would have been awkward with out sustained applause. Time for NBC to consider bringing in a reside crowd for the power and pacing it supplies.
But this feels like nitpicking. The production was effortlessly the very best of NBC’s live musical events and 1 of the most inventive, eye-catching, expertly executed pieces of television this year.
From its earliest beginnings, The Wiz has been a proud example of how the most traditional elements of American pop culture can be transformed and made even far more enjoyable by blending with black culture and talented black performers.
Seeing a significant broadcast network like NBC revive a show with that message at this time was a wondrous point. Watching The Wiz Live! (you can catch it on-line if you missed it) confirmed the energy of diversity to create compelling television.