Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The Wiz trivia!

With The Wiz Live! to debut on NBC tomorrow, here's some facts you may or may not have known about this property.
  • The creator of The Wiz, Ken Harper, initially thought of the property as a TV special or an episode of a series that would reimagine classic stories as told through an African-American context.
  • The director of the original production—Trinidad-born Geoffrey Holder—replaced Gilbert Moses. Holder was brought on because of his incredible costume designs. Some Oz fans may know Holder as Willie Shakespeare and Punjab in the films Doctor Doolittle (1967) and Annie (1982) and the narrator of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), as well as his 7-Up commercials.
  • The Wiz opened on Broadway on January 5, 1975 with a closing notice as the show wasn't expected to be a hit. However, unexpected support from church groups and a TV commercial helped pull it ahead and become a hit musical that ran until the end of January, 1979.
  • The original Broadway cast album of The Wiz was arranged to also work as a pop album. This resulted in the rearrangement and dropping of several songs and instrumentals.
  • Motown bought the film rights to The Wiz in 1977 and signed Stephanie Mills to star. However, Diana Ross was interested in starring in the film. When she convinced Rob Cohen of Universal to help fund the picture if she was cast, Mills was out and Ross was in.
  • Despite not reprising her role in the movie, Stephanie Mills says she has no hard feelings towards Diana Ross, citing her career went a different route. She has also recently reported that she visited the film's set while she was dating Michael Jackson and even had discussions with Diana Ross.
  • The original musical won several Tony Awards: Best Musical, Best Original Score (Charlie Smalls), Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (Ted Ross), Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (Dee Dee Bridgewater), Best Direction of a Musical (Geoffrey Holder), Best Choreography (George Faison), and Best Costume Design (Geoffrey Holder).
  • Stephanie Mills reprised the role of Dorothy in revivals in 1984 and 1993. The ending song "Home" became a staple of her repertoire, and she would usually sing it in her concerts. She attempted to stop using the song and move on from the role that made her a star, only to bring it back after the death of songwriter Charlie Smalls in his memory.
  • The surviving lead cast of MGM's The Wizard of Oz—Ray Bolger, Jack Haley and Margaret Hamilton—all enjoyed the stage musical. Haley and Bolger even presented the musical with its Tony Awards for Choreography and Direction, respectively. Bolger, however, was not taken with the film version, saying it would never come close to the status of the MGM classic.
  • MGM's lyricist, E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, did not share the cast's enjoyment of the play, calling it “a theatrical disgrace in keeping with the ugliness of today’s culture.”
  • The 1978 film version is drastically different from the original musical with a completely different script and differences in song selections and usage. Filming on location in New York City, the film went over budget at $24 million, but only took in $13.6 million at the box office. The film was also panned by critics. Television and home video provided a new home for the film, earning it cult classic status.  
  • The 1978 film was set to get a special DC Comics magazine featuring a comics adaptation of the film and a spinoff album titled Diana Ross Sings Songs from The Wiz. Both went unreleased, though the album has recently been released through digital music services.
  • ABC was interested in a TV version of The Wiz to follow their TV version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella featuring Brandy and Whitney Houston. They even cast then-unknown Anika Noni Rose to play Dorothy. However, they discovered the rights were at Universal and shelved the production. Robert Iscove mentioned that he met Anika on her audition, which led him to sign her for a later theatrical film, From Justin to Kelly. The producers of the shelved version would go on to produce The Wiz Live!
  • The grand song of Act 2, "Everybody Rejoice/Brand New Day" is the only song in the original play not to be written by Charlie Smalls, but rather Luther Vandross. Quincy Jones composed several new pieces of music for the film version. The new Emerald City song sequence featured new lyrics by Charlie Smalls, while the other original songs were written with Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson.
  • The Wiz Live! features David Alan Grier and Queen Latifah as the Cowardly Lion and the Wiz, respectively. They had previously appeared in The Muppets Wizard of Oz as Uncle Henry and Aunt Em, and David also played the Wiz himself in a La Jolla Playhouse revival of the play.
  • "You Can't Win" was initially written for the Winkies to sing after Evilene captures Dorothy, but was removed. It was later considered for a new song for the people of the Emerald City to sing to Dorothy and her friends to close Act 1. It was ultimately dropped, but the film version substituted it in place of "I Was Born On The Day Before Yesterday." This replacement has been repeated in some stage productions and The Wiz Live!
  • Another song, "Wonder Wonder Why" was written for the play, but ultimately dropped. It appears that it was considered for use in the film version, but was dropped. (Diana Ross did record a version of it.) Stephanie Mills would later sing it after Dorothy was captured by Evilene in the 1984 revival of the musical. Diana Ross' version of the song has recently been released on the album Diana Ross Sings Songs From The Wiz.
  • The play and songs have been translated and performed in Dutch and German. Other English language versions have been performed all over the world.
  • Mabel King and Ted Ross were cast as Evilene and the Cowardly Lion again in the film version after playing those roles in the debut cast on Broadway.
  • Dee Dee Bridgewater's Tony Award-winning role of Glinda was on stage for less than ten minutes. Geoffrey Holder, when asked about it, mentioned "Broadway politics," David Maxine interpreting it to mean that her win was a sign of solidarity for her husband, fired Wiz director Gilbert Moses. Stephanie Mills, despite receiving acclaim for her role, was not nominated.
  • The Wiz Live! features a new song "We Got It" to close the Act 1 section of the play. It is written by cast members Ne-Yo and Elijah Kelley along with Harvey Mason Jr. and Stephen Oremus. 
  • Stephanie Mills has said that her role as a little girl was so convincing that she was sent gifts such as toys. She would donate these to hospitals and charitable organizations.
  • Stephanie Mills appeared in The Wiz Live! as Aunt Em.
  • The film apparently had an original song removed late in the editing. "Is This What Feeling Gets?" appears on the soundtrack album and the opening of the music is heard in the film after the friends meet the Wiz as Dorothy's friends talk to her in a motel room. Presumably it was dropped because it would have been a little over three minutes of Diana Ross just singing sadly in a hotel room.
Here is a complete listing of all the songs that have been used in The Wiz:
  • The Feeling That We Had
  • Can I Go On? ** ~
  • Tornado *
  • He's The Wizard
  • Soon As I Get Home
  • I Was Born On The Day Before Yesterday * ~
  • You Can't Win **
  • Ease On Down The Road
  • Slide Some Oil To Me
  • Ease On Down The Road #2
  • Mean Ole Lion
  • Ease On Down The Road #3
  • Be A Lion
  • Emerald City Ballet * ¶
  • Emerald City Sequence (Green/Red/Gold) ** ~
  • So You Wanted To Meet The Wizard *
  • What Would I Do If I Could Feel?
  • We Got It ***
  • No Bad News
  • Wonder Wonder Why **** ~
  • Everybody Rejoice/Brand New Day
  • Who Do You Think You Are? * ¶ ~
  • Believe In Yourself ~
  • Y'All Got It! *
  • A Rested Body Is A Rested Mind * ¶ ~
  • Believe In Yourself (Reprise)
  • Home
* Not used in the film version
** Introduced in the film version
*** Introduced in The Wiz Live!
**** Introduced in the 1984 revival
¶ No commercial recording available with English vocals
~ Not featured in The Wiz Live!

In addition, there are no commercially available recordings of the instrumentals "Overture," "Entr'acte," "Funky Monkeys," "Promenade," and the final bows and exit music, aside from a CD release of karaoke tracks (featuring synthesized music) that included these as well.


Eric said...

There's another connection between The Wiz and The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, although it's not also connected with The Wiz Live. This article in Playbill mentions many of the other performers who have been in The Wiz over the years, including Ashanti as Dorothy. She also played Dorothy with the Muppets. There's even a picture of her at the bottom of the page.

Jared said...

That and both "Muppets" and The Wiz movie both depicted the Monkeys as motorcyclists.

bluerangerhot said...

Plus Queen Latifa and David Allen where in both Muppets Oz and Wiz live

Sam A M said...

There was going to be Movie Comic too!

Too bad somebody pulled the plus out of this project because they thought the film looked like it was going to be a flop (which it was). I would love to have added this particular piece to my Oz/Wiz collection!