At last, a live show done right.
Flashback to a baby Mariah dancing barefoot to a record playing the original The Wiz soundtrack in the backyard of a St. Louis home. Baby Mariah, like all talented little black children, assumed she would grow up to play Dorothy and ease on down to superstardom. But, alas, baby Mariah grew up into this Mariah and she is here, not having ever played Dorothy, but writing about the one who did. Life throws you curveballs, doesn’t it?
In any case, to quote Anna from the Disney classic Frozen, NBC finally delivered a live musical worth watching “for the first time in forever.” Gone are the days of Audra McDonald’s charity work for the mess that was The Sound of Music and Allison Williams’s lifeless performance of Peter Pan. This is not to say that The Wiz went on without its issues, but it was better that what anyone I know anticipated, and your mama, auntie, and grandmama didn’t blow up your phone after Shanice Williams butchered “Home” — because, in fact, she killed it.
In a pre-storm Kansas, the original black Dorothy who is now Aunt Em (Stephanie Mills) tends to some laundry (which was glued for the gawds in that basket) as her helping hands tidy things up. These hands belong to the actors who play the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion (hello, David Allen Grier). The setting is “present day” which is in a word, confusing, because nothing, but everything, screams 2015. When Dorothy emerges (newcomer Shanice Williams), she is in wedged sneakers, a plaid skirt, unlooped belt, and Thriller lite red leather jacket. With an on-trend clay mani to boot. OK, so, 25 percent of her outfit is giving me 2015 while the other 75 percent is serving 2001. With Aunt Em, we’re in full The Color Purple mode. No matter the time, Aunt Em has a musical word for Dorothy to obey her auntie and keep her behind put during the impending storm in the show’s first song “The Feeling We Once Had.” Aside from that one note, ya’ll know the one, Stephanie Mills has still got them pipes and I feel it!!
After getting a glimpse of Toto, who was big AF, Dorothy disobeys her Aunt Em and gets caught in the storm. This is the moment where I thought the show had gone south because the camera work was less than stellar. However, nothing gets me turnt quite like some dance chaos, so I wasn’t too bothered by the lingering shots on the multimedia screens projecting not one but multiple tornados!! And poor Shanice, who is not even 10 minutes into her television debut but got turned all the way upside down with her behind showing on national TV due to the horrible suspension cords flipping her around in the air!
As to be expected, the storm drops her into munchkin-land. After congratulating Dorothy on successfully killing the Wicked Witch of the East by landing her home on the Witch’s now lifeless body, the munchkins introduce her to the Good Witch of the North (Amber Riley). Amber Riley’s acting and comedic timing may not be what it once was on Glee, but boy if she can’t sang. As the Good Witch of the North, Amber delivers “He’s the Wizard” to direct Dorothy to the Wiz, who can lead her back home. She also gives Dorothy the Wicked Witch’s slippers, which will help her on her way.
Oddly enough, the Good Witch of the North is using an iPad as a “magic slate.” Um, OK.
The Good Witch introduces Dorothy to the Yellow Brick Road, which to me, is like a club drug. Those few steps Dorothy took on that stage sent me catapulting out of my chair like Obama had just gotten elected for a third term.
Dorothy gives us her first musical number, “Soon as I Get Home.” Our little unknown can really sing, but I couldn’t help but wonder what Diana Ross was doing during this whole affair. Like, Stephanie Mills is the original black Dorothy, but Diana Ross is the original black Dorothy, OK?!
On her journey down the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy of course comes across Scarecrow, played by Elijah Kelley, who almost didn’t make me get a noise complaint from my neighbors by wailing, “MICHAEL!?! WHY DID YOU DIE ON US!?!” No matter my circumstances, Elijah killed “You Can’t Win” and the perfect amount of limp muscles and loose bones to get me dancing. Also, the crow ensemble in this number did the nae nae, so that was enough for submission to the Emmys, Tonys, Oscars, and Grammys,.
Dorothy takes him with her and they “Ease On Down the Road,” and run into the Tin Man (Ne-Yo)!
Of fucking course Ne-Yo is wearing a hat, which he tries desperately to keep on his head throughout the entire show. Considered to be no one’s actor, Ne-Yo did sing and dance the mess out of “Slide Some Oil to Me.” Completely impressive and masterfully done.
The trio continues down the Yellow Brick Road only to be confronted by a lion (David Allen Grier). The Lion tries to scare them singing “I’m a Mean Old Lion,” but all he does is leave them unharmed and turn me on because he’s cowardly and fine AF. Despite his hair looking like a white dude’s dreads at Coachella, the Lion is giving me sexual energy that’s not fit for prime time or basic cable, honey!
On their way to Oz, the now foursome comes across a poppy field, which Dorothy was warned about by the munchkins. the Scarecrow and Tinman are immune to the trippy poppy dust because they are not made of ~flesh~. Dorothy is able to escape but the lion is sucked in, singing “Lion’s Dream” and submerging himself in the poppy field. It seems the poppies have the same effect on the Lion as the Lion has on me. So I get it.
Field mice are able to get the Lion to safety, and they continue on their way. The group finally makes it to the Emerald City. The city is guarded by a bouncer (Common). Oh, poor Common. Dude is not in Selma anymore and is nervous AF to be a part of this live production. No amount of stage fans could control his sweat, and his colored-in goatee was the saddest thing I’ve seen in 2015. Like the Good Witch of the North, he too has an iPad. The Bouncer eventually lets them into the Emerald City where the group is dazzled by the sights and the VOGUEING!!!!! If this entire “Emerald City Ballet (Psst)” sequence isn’t turned into “walking out of work on Friday like” GIFs, then this whole production was in vain.
Despite the spectacular show, the people of the Emerald City laugh at Dorothy and her crew for wanting to see the Wiz, until they see her dead witch’s shoes.
In an instant, they arrive at the Wiz’s door. First greeted by a giant puppeteered head, and then by the Wiz (Queen Latifah) himself, Drag King Latifah! The Wiz, dressed to the nines, serves us some cha-cha dance moves in her intimidating song, “So You Wanted to Meet the Wizard.” She gives Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion all chances to tell her want they want from her, and she promises to give it to them if they kill Evillene, The Wicked Witch of the West.
The group agrees and sings a NEW song “We Got This.” The song is cute, but I prefer my regularly scheduled set list.
At Evillene’s (Mary J Blige) lair, she berates her servants, the Winkies, for leaving even a drop of water near her because that’s the only way she can die. To assert her power, she sings “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News.” Now, Mary J is one of our great American singers, so kudos to The Wiz’s creative team for keeping her mostly vocal and her “dance” moves to a minimum. Aside from her mouth being at her ear when she sang and tried to act, Mary gave me just enough evil to buy.
After her number, Evillene notices Dorothy and her crew. She busts out her own shiv on them and sticks her winged monkeys on them. After a moment of torture and chores, Dorothy is fed up and splashes a bucket of water on the Wicked Witch, killing her. Everyone is overjoyed, especially the Winkies, who strip their clothes and sing “Everybody Rejoice/Brand New Day.”
Delighted that they completed their task, the group goes back to the Emerald City to see the Wiz. Poor Common, who is still the bouncer and still in need of a Xanax, lets them back in.
Instead of being met by the Wiz in person, he speaks to them through his massive puppet head. The Wiz backs out of his promise. Angry, they unplug his puppet head, shutting down this whole operation and revealing the Wiz who is doing what I do on every weekend night — lounging. The Wiz confesses she has no real powers (aside from having the powers of being a woman, OK, Miss Wiz!). The real story is that she traveled in from Omaha via hot air balloon, surprising the people of the Emerald City so much that they declared her a Wizard.
Wiz makes her way back to Omaha dressed in her Kim Kardashian Maternity finest telling the people of the Emerald City “Y’all Got It!” and flies away in her hot air balloon. Bye, Queen Latifiah, I mean, the Wiz!!!
All hope isn’t lost for Dorothy to get home, because the Good Witch of the North appears to tell Dorothy that she should ask her sister, Glinda, the Good Witch of the South for help. Glinda (Uzo Aduba) emerges and sings “A Rested Body Is a Rested Mind.” Because she is a Broadway icon, Uzo, as Glinda, shuts it down.
Dorothy makes her way back home. In what is probably one of the swiftest endings ever, Dorothy sings “Home,” and is transported right back to Kansas where Toto and Aunt Em both rush to her side. The end!