Rebuilding a Classic… Again… The Wiz

Posted: December 4, 2015 in Great Artist in Action, Storytelling
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

I watched the live presentation of the Wiz last night on NBC. It was extremely well done. The cast brought real life to the characters and that was no small feat. The singing was incredible, staging and make-up were astounding. This production had it all and it got me thinking. What does it take to remake a classic. The original 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz was a cinematic masterpiece. When one considers how early in the history of film this movie was made, it boggles the imagination. Even today the juxtaposition of black and white and color stands out as an incredible artistic choice and those darn flying monkeys terrified me as a kid. It was pure genius and when something is considered that much genius, most people consider it untouchable.

Then came The Wiz. Taking this classic and totally rethinking it was a remarkable undertaking. Setting it in an urban setting with a Motown soundtrack had to be considered very edgy, but with some of the greatest artists in the history of music filling the roles it too had classic written all over it. It too is a masterpiece.

Last night’s production added to the legacy. Live TV would seem daunting and yet this very talented cast seemed to pull it off without a hitch at least no visible ones. A newcomer, Shanice Williams, stole the show in the part of Dorothy. Her vocals were astounding. David Alan Grier made a very believable mean old lion. Having known him mainly as a comedic actor, I didn’t know what to expect of him in a musical, but his singing in Be a Lion cemented it for me. The man can sing. Elijah Kelly was fantastic as the Scarecrow, no surprises there, he was amazing in Hairspray and NeYo did a great job as the Tin Man. Over all this was a great production that I will watch again. My only complaint was the choppy action caused by all the commercials and this is a minor complaint, I know something like this had to be quite a pricy exercise and I am sure some of those breaks facilitated costume changes, set changes, etc. This was really well done.

Here’s my take away for this audience. The Wiz is proof that old stories can be told in fresh ways without detracting from the story or the message and that includes the story we have been entrusted with. We can be totally faithful to the truth that sets men free and still bring it forward into a context that will speak to our day. It just takes some creativity.
If you don’t believe me, try singing Amazing Grace without My Chains are Gone. You can take a classic and make is sing.


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