Sometimes the magic of fine art lies in its mystery. It’s the pillar of what has always captivated our imagination. And much like all great art, it reconnects our memories and wishes to a once familiar ambient. The beauty and fun of The Wiz Live! was no different. The culture and nuances of its music, cast, set design and heart challenged and enriched its audience.
Our 21st century Dorothy, portrayed by breakthrough actress Shanice Williams, has a little more spunk. With a mind of her own, she defends the Scarecrow from the crow bullies and is critical of the ideas they “stuffed” in his head. The “heartless” Tin-Man and The “Cowardly” Lion she believes in and encourages to reach for their dreams. Although the 1939 character shared the same spirit, our modern Dorothy shares that of our generation: “a get up and do it yourself attitude, take no for an answer, for the sky – or easing on down the yellow road, in this case – is the limit.”
The munchkins’ down-to-earth sense of humor and that of Addapearle, The Good Witch of the North, welcome the viewers into a world that is not too different from ours. Amber Riley, popularly known for playing Mercedes in the musical tv show Glee, brings the same genuine energy in her portrayal of Addapearle. The peculiar land where Dorothy’s house lands is only sometimes visually distinct. It’s easy to relate to the everyday-like conversation, humor and fun sarcasm.
The presence of Queen Latifah and the heart behind it is already a living legacy. Her role as The Wiz is nothing less than majestic. It’s creative to find out about the woman behind The Wiz. She helps the “Cowardly” Lion discover the courage to unplug her mirage show with all the strength in the Emerald City world. Dorothy and Tin-Man are also reminded that heart, courage and peace are always within us to begin with.
And it’s difficult to despise Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West, with Mary J. Blige’s invested passion. How evident that she enjoyed playing this role which gave beauty –maybe for the first time – to this wicked character. Two of the most popular songs in the musical “Don’t nobody bring me no bad news” and “Easing on down the road,” although in plot contrast maybe have more in common then we previously thought.
It’s Auntie Em’s soft spoken song “The Feeling We Once Had, “portrayed by the 1970’s original Dorothy Stephanie Mills that starts out Dorothy’s heartfelt journey and embraces her until the last scene, back in the arms where it belongs, Kansas and family. The connection between the two characters also follows the journey of two artists, decades apart but with the special goal to bring Dorothy back home. Their fulfilled goal boldly writes history in the books of musical theater, our broadcasting and culture.
At the heart of The Wiz Live! is a genuine story of the girl next door from New Jersey, whose career launched live on NBC with 11 million views. Nineteen-year-old “aspiring” actress Williams is the spirit and baby face of a new entertainment. She’s the strength and beauty of a new generation. We now await even the slightest glimpse of her new projects. Until then, it will be special to enjoy the small new legacy of The Wiz and the Emerald City which she has left in our hearts.