Ease on Down The Road! NBC's THE WIZ LIVE! and the history of this classic Broadway show

Let's be totally honest here: NBC's previous live broadcasts of The Sound of Music in 2013 and Peter Pan in 2014 were absolutely awful. There was something about The Sound of Music that made it too boring to be worthy of praise and Christopher Walken as Captain Hook in Peter Pan might beat Marti Pellow as the worst actor in a musical I have ever had the misfortune of seeing.

It seems this year though that NBC got it right for once with their live broadcast of The Wiz (which seems to have been forgotten in recent years in my eyes) and I know I'm not alone when I say that this is the best live television broadcast of a musical we've seen so far.

Let's talk about the show's origins for starters. The Wiz is known as being "an urbanised retelling" of The Wizard of Oz with the show starting Broadway performances at the Majestic Theatre on January 5th 1975 (note that Phantom plays the Majestic now and has done all its life - that's how old this show is!) The original Broadway production bagged itself several Tony Awards including the Best Musical prize and became a cult classic following the movie adaptation of the film from 1978 starring Diana Ross and the late Michael Jackson. Stephanie Mills played Dorothy in both the original production and the 1984 revival, and Broadway legend Phylicia Rashad made her Broadway debut as a munchkin in the show's original ensemble. The show received such mixed reviews on opening night that they considered closing the show then and there, but it was a TV advertisement of the cast singing "Ease On Down The Road" and the song's placement at #19 in the Billboard 200 that kept the show alive and running; after moving to The Broadway Theatre on May 25th 1977, the show ended its run on January 28th 1979 after a staggering 1672 performances - not bad for a show they were considering closing after opening night!

Enough about the original production though - let's talk about the NBC live staging. To say this was a superb example of why these live performances for TV are a good idea is an understatement. Not only does the urban vibes of the show and the updated book by Harvey Fierstein make this production incredibly successful, but it's the cast and the visuals that really make it work as well. Unlike previous NBC live performances, the entire cast were on their A-game and not a single one of them was a weak link (except perhaps Mary J Blige, but we'll let her off). Stephanie Mills made a wonderful cameo as Aunt Em; Elijah Kelley arguably stole the show at points with his charismatic portrayl of the Scarecrow; Ne-Yo made a very sexy and suave Tin Man; Amber Riley and Uzo Aduba of Glee and OITNB fame respectively made their mark on the show will stellar performances vocally and dramatically; Queen Latifah owned every second she was in; and newcomer Shanice Williams shone like the star she is destined to become after this as Dorothy. It was delightful to see a cast filled with such incredibly talented performers all perfroming to such a high standard, despite the fact that there was no studio audience and this was clearly a live one-take-wonder. I spent a lot of my time watching in awe of how good they all were and how everyone worked so well as a solid ensemble in such a chorus-led show.

It was visual and aural beauty of an ode to the original production with gorgeous new orchestrations of the songs which made it feel all the more modern, fresh and up to date as well as the vibrant and stunning sets - they presented this show as though it was a brand new musical and it really felt that way, which is perhaps what made this live broadcast so special in comparison to the others.

I don't know when the broadcast will be shown in the UK just yet, but mark my words when I say that it's a television event you will not want to miss. I look forward to seeing if this show's plans of heading to Broadway following its broadcast come to fruition, as well as looking forward to treasuring it as the ultimate version of The Wiz that it really is.

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