To know me, is to know that I don’t like musicals. I tried my hardest to watch the live rendition of Rent and I just could not get past them singing their lines. I hated it. I don’t hate all musicals but I hate most of them. But the belle of the ball here is The Wiz and I hear what you’re saying, “The movie is completely different from the stage play.” Yes, I know that, and I own not only the Barry Gordy version but the live action version as well. I’m fully invested in both and here’s why.
Let’s start with Barry Gordy’s version of the classic. My favorite song from this version is the colors. We hear this song when we first get into the Emerald City. In life, my favorite color is green and it just so happens that the song for the color green is also my favorite and not even just because green is my favorite color. Below is the video for all three colors. My mom likes red and we love gold as well but green and red….FIRE!
The Barry Gordy version of The Wiz gave the classic a new setting. Although New York is not my favorite place (I’ve been and it’s too many people), I loved the way Gordy used the backdrop of New York in a unique way when we get to Oz. We know that Dorothy is from a different place (no pun intended because this is a lyric from the Munchkins song in this movie) but it still feels like she’s home. I also never realized the difference between this film and the original Wizard of Oz. On her way to get home, Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz is joined by the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion but in her real life, these people were her family just in different roles. Gordy did away with that in his film rendition of the movie and made these characters people Dorothy had never seen nor interacted with. We also didn’t spend a lot of time in the movie version setting the background for Dorothy. I think we may have seen Dorothy’s home like for ten minutes and it really didn’t make that much of an impact on me besides the fact that it set up that she was a teacher who had never been past 125th street. I enjoyed that he did this so we could focus more on the setup of the other characters to come.
Also, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell and Ted Ross. I mean who could he get to be better? Mabel King as Evilene?! Hunnie! The music was the best. The groove was strong and I almost cry every time I watch Nipsey Russell sing about what he would do if he could feel. I just love the look on Michael’s face when he hears him sing. There’s this relaxed yet awe filled (not a word) look he has when watching this man pull our wigs back with his vocals. I stop in my tracks every time I see that The Wiz is on. I love it. And Richard Pryor as the Wizard? Lena Horne as Glinda? Do I need to go on? Thelma Carpenter as Miss One, who is a completely new character by the way who I always thought was funny because she talked like a numbers runner from back in the day which I think was the point. As a kid, you don’t know this. Take a look and listen to these legends as they belt out beautiful introductions to themselves as the Scarecrow, the Tin Man (not his introduction but the best of his songs) and the Lion.
Now, this live action version that aired in December of 2015 on NBC was PHENOMENAL. First, Shanice Williams is a doll. I loved her, I loved her journey and I loved that they casted someone we didn’t know in this role. Auntie Em was Stephanie Mills which was great because she was the original Dorothy on Broadway. I loved Elijah Kelley as the Scarecrow. I’ve watched him for most of his career and knew he could master this role because he’s naturally funny, can sing his butt off and is very nimble. All things you need in order to be a Scarecrow who has lived his life on a pole. I grew up watching reruns of In Living Color so David Allen Grier was a no brainer. I didn’t realize he’d done theater. I won’t lie. They told me Ne-Yo would be the Tin Man and my mom and I gave him a hard no, but he surprised me. But ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, let me tell you who we slept on. AMBER RILEY! Now, I know my girl Amber can blow but this vocal right here? What she did in this scene AND LIVE?! Hunnie, it was magical to see her sing so effortlessly. She played Addaperle, The Good Witch of the North, which could have easily been a throw away character and those scenes with the Munchkins could have been thrown away, but they made those scenes worth it and kept me engaged.
I could watch either film or rendition over and over again and still find something new to love. This was my introduction to a full cast of beautiful black people going on a fantasy journey. If I ever have kids, this would be a must see. If you are reading this and have never seen this, find it and WATCH IT! Get into the groove!