(This just in: NBC is re-airing this on the 19th, if you missed it last night, so set your DVR if you want to see it!)
So much to cover from last night’s live performance of The Wiz! Let’s dive right in. I obviously just want to open with Common’s face:
I love Common. I mean, in general, not specifically here, although his role as (essentially) Emerald City’s bouncer was quite amusing. I just have to note my love for him for the record whenever he appears. I say it whenever I drive past a billboard in which he is featured, for example.
And now down to the real business, which I shall present in list form because I love a list:
Number one: Most importantly, this was SO MUCH BETTER than Peter Pan Live! or Sound of Music Live! which is, I think, exciting news for everyone (other than those of us who love a televised trainwreck, but still; I firmly believe that a well-done live musical event is good news for everyone).
Two: I have seen The Wiz before, but not for a long time, so those of you who are more familiar with it than I am, please feel free to weigh in at length at whether you thought this was well done, stuff that got screwed up, and anything that I missed. (I am, however, very familiar with The Wizard of Oz, and, as an adult, it’s really fun to see how many subtle nods there are to the movie in this musical, beyond the obvious. I love thinking about how that source material was adapted into and updated for and tweaked to get this story; it’s fascinating to me from a creative standpoint, even though, obviously, the bones are the same.) I do wonder how much knowledge of a musical helps you enjoy that musical. Heather and I saw Hamilton three weeks ago, and we both went in not having listened to it at all (intentionally), and we LOVED IT. But I think that part of the appeal of these NBC Live Musical Extravaganzas is nostalgic. I really enjoyed this, but I didn’t have a nostalgic connection to it as a musical. If you did, how did that affect your enjoyment of it? (I am EXTREMELY NOSTALGIC about The Sound of Music and I thought that production was a shitshow, but that production also was a shitshow; my theory is that if you had nostalgia for The Wiz, it only made this good experience better.)
Three: You know the basic story of The Wiz (I assume): A tornado comes through town and yada yada yada, Dorothy’s house lands on an evil witch and kills her, and then she proceeds to collect a bunch of friends en route to see The Wiz, all of them looking for a favor: Dorothy wants to go home, the Scarecrow needs a brain, the Tin Man needs a heart, and the Cowardly Lion needs some courage. The Wiz wants them to do him a little favor first — it’s quid pro quo in Oz — and kill the Wicked Witch of the West. Just a little light murdering! Which they do, only to learn that The Wiz is actually human like everybody else and she can’t actually magically give them what they need at all. Luckily, eventually, they learn that they already had everything they needed inside themselves all along. Also: I forgot how much this story is about Dorothy killing people, accidentally, or on purpose. I mean, in fairness, they did all really deserve it. And there’s your recap. Let’s get to the details!
Four: Amber Riley was amazing as Addaperle, the Good Witch of the North, and also her costume is rad. LOOK:
For one thing, I think she — and Mary J Blige, about whom I shall gush next — were the standout female voices of the night (although I thought Shanice Williams played Dorothy very well, especially for someone who is nineteen and making her debut in such a high pressure situation). But more than anything, I thought Amber just seemed like such a pro among pros. She nailed her musical numbers, her comic timing was perfect, she was funny and energetic and flat out great and needs to be in everything, at all times. (And speaking of costumes, Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture posted a really good piece today about the original production’s costumes, which won a Tony and which they have in their collection. I highly recommend it.)
Five: It was at this point, where Dorothy and her squad are working for Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West (which soon, of course, leads to Evillene dying a fiery death that I felt the show could have milked a bit more, actually), that I decided I would pay real money to watch Mary J Blige play Miss Hannigan in a live version of Annie — with the caveat that I think Annie the Play is not actually as good as Annie the Movie, so we’re going to have to work on that:
She. Was. Great. Her musical numbers were great. Her delicious and perfectly modulated scenery chewing was great. Her meanness was great. Her leather pants under that fabulous gown were great. Everything about her was GREAT.
In short, I have no hateration whatsoever for her dancery. And speaking of danceries:
Six: Let’s move over to Emerald City, because once you get past Common and get inside, turns out IT IS AMAZING:
WHY AREN’T WE AT THIS PARTY? LOOK AT HER HEADPIECE:
I can’t stop taking screen grabs of the Emerald City Dance Party, which is like Studio 54 on St Patrick’s Day on acid. THERE IS VOGUEING. There are several women who seemed inspired by Grace Jones. This happened:
IT FILLED ME WITH TRUE JOY. And while we’re on the subject of greenery:
Seven: We now know that Queen Latifah looks great in green-streak hair and unusual make-up:
As Heather noted on Twitter, “The second Queen Latifah came out as The Wiz, I got an urge to see her and SWINTON co-star in something with David Bowie.” Can we please put that on the To-Do list along with Mary J Blige in Hannigan (oh my god, it’ll be like Hamilton, except about Miss Hannigan CALL ME LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA)?
She also has an amazing coat:
And a really rather excessively oversized chair:
She also owns literally the exact same bathrobe that my mother does, which is revealed when Dorothy and the crew come back from killing Mary J Blige (FOREVER IN OUR HEARTS) and want to collect on the heart, brains, courage, and trip home The Wiz promised them, only to discover it was all a fraud:
I feel like this is also the best place to point out that Queen Latifah’s face looked great in Wiz makeup and ALSO in Whoops You Just Caught Me Eating Pizza And Watching TV makeup, and that is why she was a Cover Girl.
She also looked hella elegant when the time came for her to fly her hot air balloon back to Kansas:
A plot point which always bothered me. As I said on Twitter, HOW exactly do you think you can fly a hot air balloon out of Oz, which is magical, and INTO the real world? Do you have a map? You obviously need a storm system — there’s a storm brewing in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and the Wizard are going to leave, if I recall correctly, but there isn’t one here — but you probably also need a little magic, and you certainly need to know how to pilot a hot air balloon! This always gave me anxiety at this point, even as a child. YOU’RE GOING TO GET LOST AGAIN. THIS PLAN IS BAD.
On the topic of how Dorothy actually gets home:
Eight: I just wanted to note that I really enjoy a show where so much hinges on a great pair of shoes.
Nine: Sidebar! I have to brag on my college friend, Paul McGinnis, who was one of the puppeteers manning The Wiz’s Head, which is awesome. (He did the eyes, eyelids, and eyebrows. He was also Oscar the Grouch in this year’s Macy’s parade. He is very talented!)
Excellent work, Paul!
Where was I? Well, if we’re noting people who were excellent…
Ten: I thought Elijah Kelley was completely terrific, both Pre-Tornado, though we only saw him for a moment (I just liked seeing his face):
And post, when he was The Scarecrow:
This role feels so iconic, given that Michael Jackson played it in the movie, and goodness knows those are big shoes to fill. I thought he was totally awesome — his big number was GREAT; and, by the way, yes, it feels weird to be so nice about one of these live musicals! But it really was BY FAR the best they’ve done. Anyway, now I also want him to be in everything:
Can Amber Riley and Elijah Kelley play Rooster and Lily in Hannigan? Obviously, because Rooster is Miss Hannigan’s brother, those parts will be much bigger than they are in Annie. Oooh, I just know this is going to be good and I’m PRETTY sure that’s not just because it’s 1am here. (I’m sure HE was good, because I made the note “Elijah Kelley is FREAKING GREAT” at a very reasonable 8:45pm.)
Eleven: As I just mentioned, it’s really late here, so let’s just talk about a whole BUNCH of stuff now.
Way better than anticipated, for me. I somehow didn’t get a snap of David Alan Grier — which I don’t even understand; I love the Cowardly Lion — but I thought he was quite good. Heather noted to me at the time, and I agree with this, though, that he seemed most thrown off by the lack of a live audience to play to, and it occasionally messed up the comedic timing of his lines. This makes sense to me, given that David Alan Grier’s entire professional life lives and breathes on the reaction of a live audience, and he’s REALLY adept at that relationship (this is a weird example, but he was on this last season of Food Network Star, basically teaching live audience interaction, and he was GREAT). This also seems like a decent place to note that I really hate that they don’t have a live audience for these things. I know they’ve said they “need the room for cameras,” but I also think these performances would be well served if they were shot LESS like a soap opera and more like…you know, a play. We as audience are so trained to applaud — to have that outpouring of emotion — at the end of a live song, or at least to hear that live audience applaud (like if you’re watching SNL, or whatever), that it does something to flatten the magic not to have that there. I hope they figure that out for the next one.
On to Shanice’s final number:
You guys! WHY did you shoot this like the final episode of American Idol? I mean, those finales are ALSO full of emotion and really cute young people singing very well, so I see the connection, but…
Oh, also, before I forget, at one point Rihanna showed up:
Sadly, this was just an ad. It was a really good ad, actually, and it also gives me the chance to note that this program had A CRAZY AMOUNT of commercials. I know they need a few for set changes — although live plays don’t use commercials, so there you go — but next time, can we just have the entire thing sponsored? Imagine the press! “Tonight, Hannigan Live! Sponsored by Kotex.” Or, you know. Whatever.
On an additional positive note, I thought it was really neat that Stephanie Mills, who originated Dorothy on Broadway in 1975, played Auntie Em in this production:
I’m sure that was surreal for her, and meaningful, and that sense of history is always cool. (I LOVE it when people who played one role twenty years ago get to play another role in a later production of the same project. Can I remember ANY of them now, at 1am, off the top of my head? No. But you feel me. It’s cool, and she was very good. Thumbs up all around.)
And finally. Don’t worry. I did not forget Uzo Aduba, our Glinda. I hope she arrives EVERYWHERE like this ALWAYS for all time:
Imagine her alighting like this at the Emmys. She looked amazing, and I love her. I actually thought her voice didn’t sound as technically fantastic as it did in all my imaginings of the moment where Uzo Aduba would descend from the ceiling to sing inspirational things to me, but the truth is that I find her so charismatic — and that song is so lovely, message-wise — that she basically managed to carry it anyway. One of the reasons I think Uzo is so good on Orange Is The New Black is that she, as a performer, has a real intrinsic kindness to her, even when she’s playing a character who is being unkind (which is clearly not the case here). Something about her always feels very warm and human and sympathetic; I really just do love her as a performer and she was really right for this part.
So, finally: Round of applause, NBC. By and large, you FINALLY GOT IT RIGHT. See you next December!