NBC is continuing its now annual winter tradition of a live musical with The Wiz Live! The network has already piqued curiosity by casting some of the best in the business: Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige and Ne-Yo to name a few.
There are a lot of eyes on newcomer Shanice Williams as Dorothy as she will lead the merry band of Oz misfits to the Wiz (Latifah) to grant their wishes.
However, in the case of NBC's previous live musical efforts, The Sound of Music and Peter Pan, there was a disconnect between what the audience expected and what was presented on stage. Likewise, The Wiz Live! is based off the Broadway production rather than the 1978 film starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, but there are some things we hope to see in the live version that make this spectacle a success for viewers at home.
5. Update it, again!
The great thing about The Wiz when it debuted in 1975 was that it was an updated version of the Judy Garland tale from the 1930s, complete with contemporary music. That updating took place 40 years ago though, so it's probably time to shake things up again. Update the clothes, the sound and the dialogue. Most of the kids that will be watching this have no idea what disco is, much less have a sense of nostalgia for it. It's time for Dorothy to get a hip-hop remake.
Fortunately, the show's music producer, Harvey Mason Jr., tells TVGuide.com that some of that rejuvenation will come in the sound of the music being performed.
"The goal for me was to update the music and make it sound fresh and contemporary while still being respectful to the original versions. We did all new arrangements [that] started with different rhythmic approaches," he says.
"We used some amazing musicians and integrated into the songs the use of synthesizers and drum machine/loops. I wanted to make sure the songs sounded cool and fresh to someone who had never heard the show before but still reminiscent to fans of the original."
4. Positive representation is important!
The groundbreaking thing about The Wiz was that it remade a classic tale for an audience starved for representation. It gave African-Americans and people of color something to aspire to that showed people that look like them.
Representation is still a hot-button issue, especially on television. The Wiz Live! is keeping the production in the African-American tradition but it's not enough to just put people of color on TV; their roles need to have a positive effect as well. That means ditching the "shucking and jiving" tropes or negative stereotypes that may have been more passable in the '70s. Dorothy and the people she meet in Oz need to represent people of color in 2015.
3. New songs!
This is a confirmed addition, but an exciting and necessary one. The Wiz may not be a familiar property for much of the new generation watching, which means its an opportunity to fit in some new songs and beef up the musical. There is at least one song coming to reinforce Dorothy's bond with Tin Man (Ne-Yo), Cowardly Lion (David Alan Grier) and Scarecrow (Elijah Kelley).
"[We] decided the end of the act need something to lift it up and also further the story of the four friends overcoming a huge obstacle," Mason says. "Additionally, it's the only real place in the show the four sing a full song together. To me, this is one of the stand-up and cheer moments of the show."
2. An active Dorothy!
The thing about The Wizard of Oz and The Wiz is that the story happens to Dorothy without her really having any agency in it. Things happen to her, not because of her. A tornado whisks her off to Oz and she finds her way down the Yellowbrick Road, but what is her purpose? Why is this journey so important? It's the 21st century; give the girl something more besides throwing a bucket of water!
We want to see Dorothy have an active role in her journey, which means giving her things to do along the way to make her going to Oz worth it. Why is she specifically whisked away for this story? A proactive Dorothy makes for a much more exciting story to tell.
The world already knows that Mary J. Blige has pipes and that Glee's Amber Riley can bring the house down, but did you know that Orange Is The New Black star Uzo Aduba is a classically trained singer? Queen Latifah showed off her musical prowess in the film versions of Chicago and Hairspray. Ne-Yo didn't sell all those albums just because he only looks good either.
There are so many incredibly talented voices lending their talents to this production that NBC should utilize them to their full potential. Let's see if Aduba can hold her own against Blige's powerhouse soul vocals. Who doesn't want to see Ne-Yo go toe-to-toe with Queen Latifah's smooth alto either? Let's throw in a Riley and Williams number to boot. The key to making this musical a success is making sure the show's stand-out numbers really wow the people at home and give us something to sing about.
The Wiz Live! airs Thursday, Dec. 3 at 8/7c on NBC.