Saturday, September 23, 2006

He's the Wizard!

Okay, so I recently got a copy of the Original Cast Recording of The Wiz on CD. My only previous exposure to these songs were in that gosh-awful 1978 movie.

The Wiz was first produced in 1974, and was an adaptation of Baum's original Oz book. It sticks very faithfully to the story, despite a few break-downs of scenes (Glinda arrives after the Wizard leaves, but she is summoned by Addaperle, the Good Witch of the North, this time, not appearing like someone to answer all of Dorothy's problems.), and a few touches for an African-American setting. The play won seven Tony awards. You can read the script for the play here.

When a film version was produced, the producers and the director decided to do a whole new adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, to avoid comparision to the 1939 movie. In my opinion, the end result looks much more like the Judy Garland musical than the play did. Most of the characters were miscast. In fact, on a documentary found on the DVD, it sounds like the casting went like this:

  • Diana Ross calls and says she wants the part of Dorothy, thus Dorothy becomes an adult. (They state "the book never mentioned Dorothy's age," but in several places in the book, she is referred to as a "little girl.")
  • They make a wish-list of who they want to play who, despite the actor/actress' adeptness. Somehow, they got them.

One touch was to take Dorothy's home from Kansas and put it in New York City. That would've been okay, but then Oz is a dressed-up version of NYC as well! Allen Eyles in his book The World of Oz says that they overdid it on that, as well as designing the sets without affection. Oz looks dark and uninteresting.

Making Dorothy an adult majorly hurt the story's themes. Especially when Aunt Em tells Dorothy she needs to find her own home, why would she want to go back home after she gets to Oz? I mean, I'm in the process of moving out from my parents' house, but if I got a chance to move to OZ (Baum's Oz), I'd take it! Leonard Maltin goes so far as to call the movie "confusing." You can read the dialogue for the movie here.

Usually, when songs are reproduced for a movie, they sound better. Such is not the case in the film version of The Wiz. Just compare DeeDee Bridgewater's version of If You Believe to Lena Horne's Believe In Yourself. Lena Horne was a good singer, but this song was not written for her talent, nor was it arranged for her to sing it.

All of the original cast songs sound more lively than the movie. Once again, the songs were not written for the film's cast.

Stephanie Mills sings all of her songs infinitely better than Diana Ross, and Hinton Battle's I Was Born On The Day Before Yesterday sure beats Micheal Jackson's You Can't Win. In a post on the IWOC message board, Eric Shanower stated that more "whining" was not what this movie needed.

Be good to yourself and order a copy of the Original Cast Recording.

(EDIT: Got some last names wrong. Sorry. Fixed them up.)

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