Monday, December 28, 2015

The Wiz Live: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Over the past couple months, we very excitedly posted about NBC's The Wiz Live and enthusiastically reviewed it and the merchandise that followed it. And while I don't regret doing that, I do have to admit, we kind of glossed over some of the problems noticed in the production. This was more so as not to spoil some of these details for anyone who hadn't seen them yet, not to lie about them.

However, the time for bringing up these up is here, so just remember, I did like it, the following is not saying the production is inherently bad, in fact, I still enjoy it and find it more enjoyable than Diana Ross crying about her dog and introversion for 134 minutes.

Dorothy wants to go home to... Omaha?
Harvey Fierstein said he wanted to strengthen Dorothy's character and clarify what happened to her parents. L. Frank Baum's original book simply says that Dorothy was an orphan and although he later clarified that Uncle Henry was Dorothy's blood relative, he didn't dwell on it much. Fierstein has Aunt Em say that she's the older sister of Dorothy's mother, eliminating Uncle Henry from The Wiz Live. (Not a major loss as Uncle Henry's presence in the original version of The Wiz amounted to a few lines of dialogue.) She further says Dorothy's parents were killed in an accident and that they lived in an aparment. Dorothy, having moved away from her old school and friends, feels dissatisfied with Kansas and wants to go back to Omaha.

However, rather than have Dorothy try to suggest to Aunt Em that she sell the farm and they move there together, Fierstein just had Dorothy want to go back to Omaha. For what? Since they lived in an apartment, Dorothy would likely find a locked door or another family living there. Where would she stay? Yes, her old friends are there, but it's also 2015, she can keep up with them on Facebook.

This alteration makes Dorothy say she wants to go to Omaha rather than Kansas when she meets Addaperle and the Wiz, but when the Wiz leaves in her balloon, Dorothy decides that she does need to go to Kansas, not Omaha. Which doesn't make much sense under a critical eye as the Wiz might wind up in either or neither place when she leaves Oz, and in any case, getting back to America, Dorothy would be able to get a bus home to Kansas much more easily than she could from Emerald City.

The Wiz is a woman!
When it was announced that Queen Latifah would be playing the Wiz—a role that has traditionally been male—some fans had a knee-jerk negative reaction. There's some concern about why the gender matters: the Wizard is a vulnerable male character while Dorothy, the Good Witches and even the Wicked Witch are all empowered female characters. Making the character female means you break that switch and turn the Wizard into an all-too-common vulnerable female.

However, this is The Wiz. While the Wizard has a moment of weakness in the original play—highlighted by the song "Who Do You Think You Are?"—but as he explains his story and gives Dorothy's friends their gifts and sings his own version of "Believe In Yourself" to them, he builds up his own strength of character again. This, with a female character, would be quite palatable.

However, Fierstein decided to change the Wiz's backstory (and neither song was used in The Wiz Live), and reveal she got into the balloon to get away from her abusive partner, a magician she assisted. Her exit from Oz was intended for her to go back and face him. Except I disagree with that. When you leave an abusive relationship, you don't owe your abuser anything. She has nothing she needs to go back to, while in Oz, she's the ruler of the fabulous Emerald City, where she could go out now without fear of the Wicked Witches and vogue away with the citizens to her heart's content. (Or, as Mari Ness suggested, become friends with those pretty poppy girls.)

"We Got It"
The Wiz Live featured a new song, written specifically for it titled "We Got It." The point of this song would be for Dorothy and her friends to band together as they go to defeat Evilene. The thing is, haven't we already seen these characters bond in the Kalidah and Poppy scenes and every reprise of "Ease On Down The Road?" It felt like a forced addition, suddenly making Dorothy's friends attempt to abandon her.

I'm sure other fans could come up with other issues they had with The Wiz Live. Certainly, one thing I would have preferred is if they could have gotten someone to really belt "No Bad News" rather than Mary J. Blige just singing it. Some would have preferred that they would have just stuck to the original script. Some probably would have preferred different casting, different costumes and sets, different choreography, even an attempt to completely recreate the original Broadway show from 1975 for TV. But, this is subjective and many people will have a different opinion on what should have been done differently.

For this blog, I've simply cut it to the issues I think are most valid, where the attempts at an update didn't really work out as much as they would have liked. Unlike NBC's other live musicals, however, The Wiz Live is expected to move to Broadway, where they can attempt to fix what didn't quite work out. Let's hope they do.


Dsneybuf91 said...

The dialogue never said that the Wiz planned to go back to Alfred, did it? If it makes anything better, you could imagine that in Omaha, she used her experience as a "Wiz" to start her own magic show. As to why she didn't stay in Oz, the pressure of spending the rest of her life deceiving the folks of the Emerald City probably got to her.

Jared said...

That's a good point. I was going off of one interpretation. Some throwaway dialogue about her plans would've been nice, though.