t is only natural that a classic piece of literature should have an African-American counterpart, so that individuals of an ebony heritage have the opportunity to compare their styles and strengths to the most well-known literary figures of all time...
...Robert Guillaume once played Nathan Detroit in a production of Guys And Dolls; Brandy and Whitney Houston portrayed Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother in Rogers and Hammerstein's Cinderella; but the most infamous and critically acclaimed of these fairytale-goes-soul crossovers is Sidney Lumet's The Wiz.
Like the original "The Wizard Of Oz" production starring Judy Garland, The Wiz owes much of it's ingeniousness to the vivid set decor as it does to it's actors. The contemporary-refurbished musical is literally one disarming oh-so-70's chic dance sequence after another, filling the viewers pupils with incalcuable displays of ostentatious Vegasy-esque entertainment and incandescent stage props and costumery; reminiscent of 1969's "Sweet Charity" and 1975's "Tommy", perhaps even a precursor to the pretentious "Xanadu" of the early 80's to come. Simply put, if you enjoy Broadway musicals with more than just a dab of glitz and glitter, then you'll love "The Wiz".
It would be mandatory for me to point out here that if you assume The Wiz is a precise replica of L.Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, then you would be sadly mistaken. Naturally the two versions share the same premise: A commonplace individual named Dorothy winds up in an extraordinary world called Oz in which she will do anything in her power to escape and be reunited with the people she truly loves, even if she never realized how much she really needed them before. This, however, is where the similarities end.
The home-life settings from "The Wizard Of Oz" and "The Wiz" are as different from each other as black and white (no pun intended). In the original version, Dorothy and her family lived in the vast plainlands of Kansas, a state known for its wide open spaces and tornados. In The Wiz, the setting is Harlem New York; a heavily populated area with wall to wall elevated grey buildings, brought to life by the occasional patch of spraypainted graffiti artwork. In the original, Dorothy is carried away to Oz by an ominous cyclone, however in The Wiz Dorothy magically finds herself in Oz after getting lost in a blizzard in which her dog Toto had naughtily run away in.
The main character of Dorothy is played by the glamorous Queen of R&B herself, Diana Ross. The Wiz portrays Dorothy as a 30ish year old mousey school teacher who is pressured by her Aunt Em(Theresa Merritt) to settle down and start a family. Gone are the long auburn curls and blue checkered pinafore that we normally associate with Dorothy. Ross's Dorothy is an African-American woman with a short Jerri-curled permed hairdo and a teacher-like ensamble. Ironically, the magic slippers that Ross wears in the film are the same as the slippers in Baum's novel. In the original film, the filmmakers had Dorothy wearing ruby-red slippers, however The Wiz's Dorothy wears silver slippers, the same as in Baum's classic childrens novel.
The clumsy Scarecrow in search of a brain is played by the multi-talented Michael Jackson. Michael's artistry is very reminiscent of the MGM stars of films golden age, so it comes as no surprise that he performs his role better than anyone else in this film. He also sings two of the most catchy songs in this production, titled "You Can't Win" and "Ease On Down The Road". With his amazing grace and agility on his feet, the viewer has an easy time believing he really is a scarecrow.
The Tinman, who probably has the most interesting costume of the three, is played by Nipsey Russell. He brings a lot of "heart" (pun intended)to this role and his makeup is very well done. He looks exactly like what you would imagine an African-American Tinman would look like.
The Cowardly Lion Fleetwood Coup De Ville, that's his full name, is played by the gregarious Ted Ross. Ross really seemed to get into his role, bringing just the right amount of soul and cartoonish ferocity to his character. His costume was even relatively stylish, or at least as stylish as a lion costume can be.
The Wiz of Oz, who states that his real name is Herman Smith, is played by Richard Pryor, and he acts like, well, like Richard Pryor. Pryor has always had that insecure glint in his eye and has exhibited unsure body gestures, which match The Wiz perfectly. The Wiz is a con-artist, a coward who tries to make himself look like someone he's not, and that's just how Pryor portrays him.
The Good Witch Glenda is played by one of the most famous Jazz singers ever, Lena Horne. She's beautiful and comforting, and brings new hope to the lost Dorothy. The Wicked Witch's appearnce is even more grotesque than the 1939 film, and she is somehow reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland's Queen of Hearts.
The Wiz is over 2-hours worth of Motown-inspired music, brilliant sets, wonderful actors, and 70's charm. What do the group encounter on their journey? Will they escape the witch? Will Dorothy return home? You have to watch this film. The only character who remains the same in both films is Toto, the rest of The Wiz is very different from the original, but that's what makes it so wonderful.
Don't forget that The Wiz is now available to order on Widescreen DVD using our special 70s search device... [See DVD section or click here for more details]
By: Bridgette Marie
The 70's was certaintly the decade for amazing plays-turned motion pictures, and The Wiz is no exception. Although this is a "black" film, even white people like myself can watch it and find aspects within the characters that they themselves can identify with also.
As a little girl, I loved The Wizard Of Oz and read the book over and over, add that to the fact that I was obsessed with Michael Jackson, and it comes as no surprise that I love this film.
It broke racial barriers and ended up as a success. I absolutely recommend this film.
The Wiz is the most expensive movie musical ever made. It premiered on October 24, 1978. [Thanks to David Jones]
Diana Ross once said "The Wiz is especially important to me because so many aspects of the story and of 'Dorothy' parallel my own life...those parts of my life that are the happiest."
After completing the film,at that time, Michael Jackson said "It's the most incredible experience I've ever had. It's something I've always wanted to do, and I'm thankful to be a part of it. It was one of my dreams that came true."
Richard Pryor, after shooting his part, commented, "The thing I liked most about it was my wardrobe. I love Quincy."
Nipsey Russell said of his role, "I had the 'courage' and the 'mind' to 'Ease On Down' and I found the 'heart' to sing on the road to town."
Lena Horne said of her part, "I think I got the job because Sidney is my son-in-law. I had a ball."
The song "Brand New Day (Everybody Rejoice) was written and composed by Luther Vandross.
Quincy Jones remarked at the time, "For many years people have been asking me 'Quincy, what was your first very big assignment?' My answer now is 'The Wiz'--Anytime you have 9 singing principals, 120 dancers, 6 sound technicians, 3 conductors, 4 contractors, 300 musicians, 105 singers, 9 orchestras, 6 copyists, 5 music editors, you are talking big numbers. I first heard about the film version of The Wiz from Sidney Lumet at a party two years ago, but i was so tied up with record commitments that I couldn't consider it. Then one day a Mercedes pulled up to my home in California and a man got out with flowers. It was Charlie Smalls asking me to do the film. I still had to say 'No' but neither Charlie nor Sidney seemed to hear me. But I've learned through the years that when Sidney is turned on about something that much 'you sure better check it out!'".
Motown had purchased the rights to the hit broadway musical The Wiz as a vehicle for Diana Ross and began filming in 1977. Michael Jackson had seen the show several times and loved it. He auditioned for and won the role of the Scarecrow. His family was amazed. Michael was so shy. But he enjoyed the experience. He loved the fantasy of the picture. He loved the heavy makeup required for his role and began wearing it to avoid fans when he returned to Los Angeles. Most of all, he loved working with his idol, Diana Ross.
Since Michael Jackson was only 19 when he played The Scarecrow, at times he needed some assistance. For example, while going through his lines he read a quotation by Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher. He first pronounced the name "So-crates" instead of "Sok-ruh-tease". After a moment of silence, Michael heard someone whisper the correct pronunciation. It was the film's musical director, Quincy Jones.
A press conference was held in New York with the main cast (Diana, Michael, Ted, Nipsey) locking arms and easing on down a makeshift yellow brick road for photographers. The press conference was to celebrate the film, but the press bombarded Diana with questions about her age and the remake of a Hollywood classic.
Filming of The Wiz had it's share of problems. Diana Ross seriously burned her retinas while staring too long at a prop of the title characters. Soul Magazine even did a story on the accident with the caption "The Eyes Of Diana Ross". Diana's eyes recovered and The Wiz was released with not one but two extravagent premiers; one in New York and one in Los Angeles.
The Wiz premiered at The Pitt's in Century City Los Angeles with tickets selling for $150 each.
After filming was complete, the cast of The Wiz held a party at Studio 54 in Michael Jackson's honor.
Michael took his sister LaToya with him for company when he moved to New York for six months to begin rehearsals and filming for The Wiz.
The Wiz was severely slated by many film critics, contributing to poor ticket sales. Michael Jackson, however, won the praise of most critics and the public alike for his demanding role, with their predictions of a glittering film career for him. With these favorable reviews came rumors of Michael being offered several other parts, including "A Chorus Line", "Summer Stock", and "The Story Of Bill Robinson--Mr. Bojangles."
In an interview, Dionne Warwick tactlessly mentioned that she could see perspiration stains under Diana Ross's arms during a scene in The Wiz.
On October 21st 1978, The Wiz (LP) original motion picture soundtrack entered the Black and Pop charts peaking at numbers 17 and 40 respectively and remained on the Pop charts for seventeen weeks.
It was said that Diana Ross had a dream about doing the movie and then insisted that it happen.
Around the time of the film's release, "A Very Special Musical Interview Feature With The Stars Of The Wiz", a radio broadcast two-record set, was released by Backstage Productions Inc of Los Angeles.
A few years later in 1981, Michael Jackson was a guest on Diana Ross's TV Special "Diana", and the two performed "Ease On Down The Road" in matching tuxedos.
L. Frank Baum based some of the Oz adventures on his experiences in the Dakota plains.
know some The Wiz trivia that we could add? [Please
send it in]
The Wiz was filmed at locations in New York City, New York.
Can you help? Do you know any of the New York City, filming locations used for The Wiz? [Please send them in]
For all of you "Wiz" fans, yes this soundtrack is available on CD (I have the album and I am very proud of it, it's a great piece of memorabilia which comes with a great booklet, which is where I got most of my trivia!).
The soundtrack includes 26 songs so it is on 2 discs. Sine it is a musical, I thought it was neccessary to list all of the songs. The tracks are:
1.Main Title(Overture part 1)
3.The Feeling That We Have Performed
4.Can I Go On?
6.He's The Wizard
7.Soon As I Get home
8.You Can't Win
9.Ease On Down The Road
10.What Would I Do If I Could Feel
11.Slide Some Oil To Me
12.Ease On Down The Road
13.(I'm A) Mean Ole Lion
14.Ease On Down The Road
1.Be A Lion
2.End Of the Yellow Brick Road
3.Emerald City Sequence
4.So You Wanted To See The Wizard
5.Is This What Feeling Gets?
6.Don't Nobody Bring me No Bad News
7.A Brand New Day
8.Believe In Yourself
9.The Good Witch Glenda
10.Believe In Yourself (Reprise)
Soundtrack Available: On CD
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"If you believe in yourself, you will have brains, heart and courage to last your life through"
|Universal City Studios|
Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, Lena Horne,
Richard Pryor, Theresa Merritt, Stanley Greene|
|Dance / Musical|
| || |
|Great music, actors, stage props, premise. Overall great movie.|
|Not for cynics.|| |