The Wiz Live! at Grumman Studio online
Having run out of Lloyd Webber musicals to tackle the boredom of the coronavirus lockdown, The Shows Must Go On is now moving on to other sources to help us through the pandemic. The Wiz Live! – first broadcast on NBC in 2015 – is a fantastic show from start to finish; it gives a classic story a fine twist, modernising the whole affair into a spectacularly jazzy take on The Wizard of Oz.
The plot is, of course, the all-too familiar tale of Dorothy (Shanice Williams), who dreams of leaving her life in Kansas, only to find herself spirited away to Oz after a tornado rampages through her home. The Wiz remains faithful to the source material; there are a few changes – notably Dorothy is given a backstory to explain the absence of her mother – but by and large, this is the same Wizard of Oz we know and love.
The music is derived from the 1975 stage adaptation, rather than the movie, and it’s just as powerful as it was in the 70s. Instead of a whimsical, dreamy score of the original, here we have upbeat, swinging and jazzy songs which are as impressively varied as they are powerful. From The Feeling We Once Had to A Brand New Day, all songs are thoroughly enjoyable and have a fair amount of earworm-material in them.
It certainly helps that the cast is stellar. Williams’s performance is breath-taking – quite a feat, considering this Dorothy is more complex than Garland’s wide-eyed portrayal – and she is joined by a host of equally talented actors. Elijah Kelley’s Scarecrow is suitably stoic and quick-witted; Queen Latifah’s Wiz is hilarious and powerful – and the list goes on; there is no doubt that this is a highly capable ensemble indeed.
The production, too, directed by Kenny Leon, is fantastic. From the perfectly fitting costume design by Paul Tazewell to the ingenious use of lighting by Allen Branton, everything just fits perfectly.
There is very little indeed with which one can take fault here. Given the runtime, the plot does occasionally feel rushed, and given the talent gathered here one would almost hope for entirely original source material to be tackled just as well – but these are minor quibbles, and they hardly detract from the fact that this is a fantastic success.
Photo: Virginia Sherwood/NBC