After a series of lackluster live performances such as “The Sound of Music” in 2013, starring Carrie Underwood, and last year’s performance of “Peter Pan” starring Allison Williams and Christopher Walken, NBC brought “The Wiz” to life on Thursday, Dec. 3.
Surprisingly, NBC brought out all the stops and aired an unexpectedly, crowd pleasing performance of “The Wiz.” Compared to NBC’s two previous live musical performances, “The Wiz,” hands down, has been NBC’s best performance yet.
With an all-star cast featuring Queen Latifah as the Wiz, Mary J. Blige as the evil witch Evelline, Amber Riley as the good witch Addaperle and Uzo Aduba as Glinda, NBC could not have chosen a better cast to portray each role.
“NBC’s The Wiz Live” welcomed nineteen-year-old Shanice Williams in her first acting role as Dorothy.
With this being Williams’ first professional role in musical theater, doubts about whether or not she could fill this iconic role as Dorothy were high.
However, Williams took audiences by storm as a brave, innocent, stubborn and spunky Dorothy with powerhouse vocals. Her professionalism to keep up with such seasoned accompanying cast members was impeccable as she held her own throughout her performance. Williams maintained high energy with a captivating smile during the entire show as she took audiences with her along her journey to Oz.
NBC also welcomed back Stephanie Mills as Aunt Em. Mills portrayed Dorothy as part of the original Broadway cast and NBC’s decision to feature Mills in the live performance of “The Wiz” was a nod toward the traditional Broadway show. Mills sang a heartfelt condition of “The Feeling That We Had” with vocals similar to the iconic Judy Garland.
Along her magical journey to Oz, Dorothy’s trio of the Scarecrow, played by Elijah Kelley; the Tinman, played by Ne-Yo; and the cowardly Lion, played by David Allen Grier took the show to another level with their impressive performances.
Kelley’s soulful performance of the Scarecrow, previously played by Michael Jackson in the film version of The Wiz, could not have been more perfect. Ne-Yo’s smooth vocals brought an R&B vibe to his performance while Grier brought comedy and ferociousness to his furry character.
“Glee’s” Amber Riley was a bit too cheerful as Addaperle, but brought the house down with her amazing vocal range. Uzo Aduba briefly entered as Glinda toward the end of the show, but gave a touching and heartfelt performance sending Dorothy back to Kansas.
As the two most iconic actors in the cast, Queen Latifah and Mary J. Blige gave powerful performances in their own way. Latifah, as the gender-bent role of the Wiz, brought strength and sincerity to her role, starting off strong and ending with a fun and energetic farewell. Blige gave an unexpectedly wicked performance as the evil witch Evelline, with her malicious attitude and villainous charisma.
Aside from the cast, the production of “NBC’s The Wiz” was captivating in all aspects. Tony Award winning acting director Kenny Leon brought color, magic and the childhood story of “The Wizard of Oz” to life through dance, costume, set design and unexpected surprises along with TV director, Matthew Diamond.
Teaming up with Cirque du Soleil, choreographers created whimsical, dramatic and electric dance numbers throughout the show as dancers modernized the magical world of Oz and took audiences to another world through acrobatics and energetic ensemble numbers. Heavily focused on choreography, “The Wiz” was portrayed as a dance heavy show, creating a more enjoyable viewing experience for audiences.
Scenic designs and set creations envisioned Oz as a colorful, otherworldly place that included digital effects, fireworks, a gigantic mechanical talking head and an illuminated yellow brick road.
Costume designs, created by Akron’s own Paul Tazewell, were impeccable, paying extra attention to detail from the individual styling of each character to the impressive hair and makeup execution. Costumes were made more modern to bring a fresh new take on the classic musical and showed that a lot of time was put into action to making each costume as perfect as it could be.
To sum up the entire performance, “NBC’s The Wiz Live” exceeded expectations and took audiences by surprise. Unlike the first two live performances of “The Sound of Music” and “Peter Pan,” the actors became completely enveloped in their characters and made the performance believable. With lively energetic numbers including “Ease on Down the Road” and “Everybody Rejoice,” the cast connected with the audience, bringing a joyful experience to the television screen.
With such highly praised critic reviews, it will be interesting to see how NBC tops the performance of “The Wiz” next year when the network chooses another musical to bring to live on television.