Remakes are tricky. Audiences measure them against the original and rarely do they actually top them. There are times, though when remakes come very close. The Wiz Live is one of those remakes. A reinterpretation of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the 2015 adaptation of the 1975 Broadway musical was full of excitement, pizazz and everything that a production should have. From the acrobatic performers to the main characters portrayed by a star-studded cast, the magic was carefully exhibited and executed making for an unparalleled, preeminent production. As with all remakes though, it is difficult not to compare them to what has come before. Here are a few observations:
1) The writing – the ‘Wiz’ is known for being a soul interpretation, but there were a few lines that could have been left out such as “what had happened was.” They added nothing to the remake and made it look less authentic when comparing it to the original Broadway production, and the film. Other lines, however, like “you don’t even got game enough to be wicked” and “home is something that’s got to be earned,” were amusing and actually helped balance those that wouldn’t have been missed from the script.
2) The choreography – it is of course, 2015 so there was an expectation that audiences would receive a memorable update. Whether it was the Emerald City Cirque du Soleil ensemble voguing or the Scarecrow doing what appeared to be the Stanky Legg, audiences would have definitely found that distasteful had the original cast found it necessary to do the Bump, Funky Chicken, Hustle, or anything of the kind. Yet, surprisingly, the seemingly foolish additions made for an even more entertaining experience.
3) The music – if you’ve ever heard Stephanie Mills sing “Home,” then you know that Shanice Williams, who played Dorothy in this version had a difficult task ahead of her. She passed with flying colors. The casting department hit a home run as well with each musical sequence. Uzo Aduba, who played Glinda the Good Witch of the South’s rendition of “Believe in Yourself” and “No Bad News” performed by Mary J. Blige (the Wicked Witch of the West), were very well done. This is not to say that Dee Dee Bridgewater, who played Glinda or Mabel King, who played the Wicked Witch in the original production deliveries were not superb – but Aduba and Blige held their own and in many ways breathed new life into both songs.
4) Costumes, Hair & Makeup – I’ve never paid so much attention to costumes in a production before, but the producers took great care in ensuring that they stood out. There were times where I forgot that David Alan Grier was playing the lion, and that the Wizard was being played by Queen Latifah, as they so transformed them that it added considerable depth that the original lacked. It could be argued that there weren’t enough resources for such brightness back in 1975 or in the 1978 film version, but having looked at many films and adaptations, the studios and production companies could have found a way.
5) An Abrupt Ending – Maybe they didn’t think that audiences would care after sitting through 2 hours and 45 minutes of a special, but there should have been more attention paid to the closing number as well as a curtain call incorporation to acknowledge the cast. That was an epic fail, which gave a sense of rush that hadn’t been felt until then – and made the production feel cheapened despite the grand entrance it had made.
Even with the differences between the original Broadway musical, the film and this 2015 version, the spirit of Black Arts was in full effect. Having taken a class on Blacks in the Arts in college, there was a feeling of a “Brand New Day” watching the Wiz Live, as a substantial amount of television these days portrays ‘us’ in either a neutral or negative position. As @FeministaJones tweeted “Black people need to see ourselves in things that we’ve been erased from and find ways to become empowered by our imagery and ideas.” While there is an understanding among African Americans that ‘we’ don’t need a television offering to empower ‘us,’ this ‘Wiz’ remake was definitely a step in changing the narrative that ‘we’ are often associated with.
Missed it live? Watch The Wiz now: LINK.