Let's Not Whiz on The Wiz!
The renaissance of the television musical is a wonderful idea that has been executed poorly with the "live" concoctions as of later. Both The Sound of Music and Peter Pan were highly anticipated and resulted in stellar ratings, but artistically lacked any spark of inspiration. The interest is fortunate because this is a terrific opportunity to introduce the uninitiated to the world of musical theatre. The lack of quality is a different matter as the producers of these "events" should strive to not only capture this new audience, but deliver them top drawer experiences. Help them see WHY theatre is magical and life-changing when all of the elements come together into one cohesive, sparkling creation.
Yesterday's big news was that NBC is eyeing a possible live television broadcast of The Wiz, a theatrical property that is long overdue for a quality resurrection in some format. A possible Broadway revival a few years back aborted long before hitting the Great White Way, and we are still trying to figure out the Diana Ross/Michael Jackson film version which felt like a delightful skip through a crack house on Christmas morning. The Wiz has long been under appreciated and a live TV version, if done well, could remind people of it's value.
There are several reasons why I think a live television version of The Wiz would be a good idea and possibly work in a way that other live predecessors have not.
1. The Sound of Music and Peter Pan both have iconic incarnations that the live performances were compared against. The Wiz doesn't have this history. The stage production had a healthy run, but not much footage or documentation exists to make comparisons. The film is well-remembered for how horribly peculiar and bad it is, so ANY new interpretation will be an improvement.
2. The Wizard of Oz is beloved in many incarnations: the book, the silent film, the 1939 musical, Wicked, are proof that it's themes appeal to a wide variety of ages. The characters are archetypes rather than deeply defined individuals, so they lend themselves to myriad possibilities of interpretation. Stunt casting works a little better when nuance of character development is not the highest of your considerations.
3. The Wiz has an infectious score: some soaring ballads and others zippy character songs. You can easily envision the legit voices of Jennifer Hudson, Usher or Queen Latifah holding the stage next to comedic types such as Steve Harvey, Yvette Nicole Brown, or Cedric the Entertainer. The point is, the music lends itself to a varied cast. Perhaps we can get Lillias White, La Chanze, or Norm Lewis in there to bring some true Broadway to the experience. I'd give my left arm to hear White sing the hell out of "The Feeling We Once Had."
The Wiz has potential for a quality live television treatment. Under careful guidance and a creative eye, the project could be brilliant. Let's not whiz on The Wiz! Let's make it happen and restore this deserving piece's reputation from the damage that's it's misbegotten film version caused.
Clicking my heels and wishing...