THE WIZ LIVE…THE BIZ OR NAH?
Well, with the understanding that I am not an acclaimed critic, this is simply me sharing my OH-pinion. While some of us waited with baited breath for this live, musical production, others were simply tuned in—I resonate with the latter. I was prepared to be entertained by a cast of new characters performing the antics of some of the world’s and my favorite stars to ever do the damn thang. From beginning to end, I’m sure we all tried not to compare, whether or not we had a fond affection for the play or the 1978 film, it was almost inevitable.
Dorothy, (played by Shanice Williams), adorned the screen as a beautiful young lady, indecisive and uncertain of herself and the love of her family, longing to find happiness. Encouraged by the ever so talented, Stephanie Mills, (playing Aunt Em), it was both visually and audibly pleasing to watch. While we all have that one uncle or male figure with whom we can find comfort, Elijah Kelley (Scarecrow) did little for me as he failed to even match the vocals of Choirboy from The Five Heartbeats, before he lost his bible. Hooray for Ne-yo (the Woodsman...or Tin Man), who we all know has talent beyond recognition, was slicker than a can of oil and though he could have easily done so, refrained from upstaging the rest of the cast, as he sang subtly and danced gently down the yellow brick road; which was actually more gold, if you ask me…but you didn’t. David Alan Grier as the Cowardly Lion, may have found his calling. While his career has seen better days, this definitely ranks amongst his top 10 performances…even sang a lil’ something. Amber Riley KILD’T IT as the Good Witch of the North, with her confident persona shining through, she made an indelible impression as a live performer, giving the production a bit more life than it had in the moments prior to her arrival from, well…the North. Oh, the diversity in Munchkin Land was real, the all black cast must have only referred to the performers with title roles, because I know I spotted an Asian munchkin dancing around, which is fine by me; I’m all for bringing people together, especially when it includes music—after all, it is the world’s universal language. Common gave a very dry, staunch, oh, my PLEASE CHANGE THE GUARD performance; thank goodness he has such appeal, because I wasn’t at all convinced that I myself could not get into the Emerald City. Ahhhh, we in ‘chere! Not at all what I expected, but certainly the ambience of the modern day glow party, filled with dancers making the Do it Like Me challenge look easy got me moving in my seat. Until this moment, I had never considered the gender specificity of The Wiz, himself, but our beloved Queen Latifah did the role justice, combining that Cleo-tastic demeanor with the grace of Dana Owens, through speech and song. Rounding out this dastardly, pleasant performance piece, none other than The Queen of Hip –Hop Soul, Mary J. Blige as the Wicked Witch of the West…on pins and needles, I sat. Wheeeeew, she did it…not too much, not too little, it was just right. Mary has the acting skills of a bedbug in 130 degree heat, but she set the tone, kept the tune and died quickly…side note (what size were those boots, Mary?) Let us not forget, the perils production fell victim to before it could even come to a close, the infamous question, the memes, the trends, the responses from those who couldn’t take it anymore…WHERE WAS TOTO? Granted this was the stage play and just running around stage with that lil pooch wasn’t the brightest idea, shit, Dorothy didn’t even have a basket. Toto got treated like Tito and we didn’t like it…while Dorothy and her band of merry misfits pranced and danced, sang and did their thang, Toto sat in the damn kennel. Well, PETA will be all over this one, won’t they? Probably not, but that’s another story for another time.
The score of the production did well to bridge generational gaps, while maintaining some of the most popular tunes of the preceding adaptations. Yeah, we wanted You Can’t Win to sound just like it did in 1978, butttaaah, we lost. When I think of home, I think of a place where…I can bellow out this tune like nobody is watching and get away with sounding just like Stephanie Mills (in my mind)…Shanice, girrrrl, you gon’ learn today! We needed that fire from the pit of your belly to come roaring through, you were supposed to do to that song what Jennifer Hudson did to Holliday’s “And I am Telling You” in Dreamgirls. We wanted to believe that you were holding it all in for the finale, but you weren’t. The dance, make-up, costumes and props were all perfectly in tune with the modernization of this piece, especially for those who made a family event of the viewing and introduced their offspring to what was a nostalgic remnant of our own childhoods. Overall, if I had to offer stars, mics, or some rating scale folks understood, it would rank at a 3.5 (out of 5).