Review: 'The Wiz Live!' has real heart and playfulness

Review: 'The Wiz Live!' has real heart & playfulness

NEW YORK (AP) — The third time's the charm for NBC.

An exuberant, inventive "The Wiz Live!" on Thursday night breathed new life into the notion of full-scale musicals on live TV with a pleased serving of 70s soul & R&B, updated with a 2015 vibe.

Starring a nice mix of pop music heavyweights, Hollywood stars & Broadway veterans, the show had a heart & playfulness that was missing from "The Sound of Music Live!" with Carrie Underwood & "Peter Pan Live!" It even came in under three hours.

p>This time 12 cameras on Long Island captured even higher stakes with complicated costumes, fire bursts, LED screens, a live dog, smoke & Cirque Du Soleil acrobats in bouncy prosthetic stilts that looked sort of like curved snowshoes. And, in a nice touch, Stephanie Mills, the original Broadway Dorothy, played Auntie Em.

The TV musical starred 19-year-old newcomer Shanice Williams as Dorothy, who received stronger as the night went on & who crushed the song's finale, "Home;" a strong Queen Latifah as the Wiz with real stage presence; Amber Riley, a very blue satisfactory witch of the North who destroyed "He's the Wizard;" & a perfectly evil Mary J. Blige as the Wicked Witch of the West.

But it was the guys on Thursday who really shined: Ne-Yo, as a winning Tin Man, moving fluidly despite a rusty suit, who beautifully delivered "To Be Able to Feel;" Elijah Kelley as an athletic, loose-limbed Scarecrow, who gave us a funky "You Can't Win" while hoisted on a pole; & a dreadlocked, extremely furry David Alan Grier as the Cowardly Lion, one who gets seriously frisky with some poppies.

After a slowish, understated start in the Kansas countryside & an underwhelming tornado scene, the show received into a groove once the four pals eased on down the road. The four had real chemistry & each served the piece respectfully.

The show was adapted from "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank Baum, with a book by William F. Brown, & music & lyrics by Charlie Smalls. The production opened on Broadway in 1975 & won seven Tonys, including best musical.

A 1978 movie version of "The Wiz" starred Diana Ross, Lena Horne & Richard Pryor. Michael Jackson co-starred as the Scarecrow, with Nipsey Russell as the Tin Man & Ted Ross as the Lion. "The Wiz Live!" honored its rich history & yet moreover added to it.

The live event was directed with satisfactory cheer & genuine spirit by Tony Award-winner Kenny Leon, & mixed songs from the stage & film. If anything, the high level of the performances exposed some weaknesses in the original songs & story.

New material was written by Harvey Fierstein, who included iPad & cholesterol jokes & a offensive Spice Girls reference. A dynamite new song that served as the Act One closer, "We Got It," was partly written by Ne-Yo & Kelley, a rad development that meant the Tin Man & Scarecrow received writing credits this time.

Choreographer Fatima Robinson's dancing was modern & light, as when she created a joyful, smiling "Everybody Rejoice," & a fantastic visual introduction to Emerald City complete with voguing, like a party at Lady Gaga's.

Costumer Paul Tazewell's geometric & colorful designs in Munchkinland gave way to scary crows, nasty flying monkeys & steampunk workers. His Lion, Tin Man & Scarecrow were inspired genius, while set designer Derek McLane was strongest after the tiny model houses in Kansas.

This version of "The Wiz" is being planned for an extended life — on Broadway — & this telecast will surely boost that effort. It will join "Wicked," which ran a commercial during the telecast, as if in welcome. There's room for both these Oz tales, & for "The Wiz," it will mean that Dorothy has once again returned "home."

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Online: http://www.nbc.com/the-wiz-live

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Follow Mark Kennedy at https://twitter.com/KennedyTwits. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/mark-kennedy

Source: “Associated Press”