Monday, December 28, 2015

The Royal Podcast of Oz: A Tribute to Rob Roy MacVeigh

The 100th episode of The Royal Podcast of Oz​ is a tribute to the late Rob Roy MacVeigh. Sam Milazzo​ and Jared Davis briefly discuss what they know about Rob's never-realized animated film version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Then Eric P Gjovaag​, Karyl Carlson​ and Marilyn Carlson share their memories of Rob, followed by David Maxine​ and a brief word from Eric Shanower​. Then Garrett Kilgore​ reads a number of anecdotes about Rob from some of his friends.

You can listen, download and subscribe at the podcast site or use the player below.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Rob Roy MacVeigh, mid 1980s (photo by Peter Hanff)

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.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

THE WIZ LIVE DVD and Soundtrack CD

Well, now that The Wiz Live! has happened and is done with (aside from its expected relocation on Broadway), how can we enjoy it now?

Well, as of today, the DVD is out, giving Oz fans a physical copy to have on their shelves.

The DVD isn't quite how viewers on December 3 saw the production as some botched camera angles and sound mixing have been corrected between the live broadcast and when the DVD went to press. Most importantly, Dorothy now clicks her heels three times. (In my review of the broadcast, I mentioned that the camera caught only one and a half clicks.)

The DVD is a pretty plain affair, opening on a simple menu that lets you select either playing The Wiz Live or the lone bonus feature, The Making of the Wiz Live. There is no chapter selection menu, subtitles or closed captions. (Digital video versions that support captions/subtitles include them, so Universal missed a beat.) I don't suppose there's many other bonus features that should have been added, unless they wanted to add at least some of the several TV spots that aired to promote it, or the introduction with Queen Latifah that aired in front of the broadcast. (There were several interviews with the cast and crew, but there may have been licensing issues when it came to including these.)

There are chapter breaks, most of them where the commercial breaks happened. The first one occurs right after the Tornado segment as lights come up in Munchkin Country.

It appears that The Making of the Wiz Live has been altered after its initial broadcast. The original broadcast contained clips from The Wiz on Broadway in 1975 and The Wiz movie. Now it only contains stills.

Lack of chapter menu and subtitles aside, the only major disappointment with this disc is that it's only on DVD, no Blu-Ray has been announced. Watching it on my computer, the image looked rather soft and some of the finer details blurred, which is what happens when you're limited to 480p. This is a fine look for DVD, but I know I'm not alone in wishing Universal would revisit this one on Blu-Ray with a nice 1080p encode so we can see it in full quality. They could also add in the subtitles as well.

I'd recommend any Oz/Wiz collector pick up the soundtrack album as well. It's available on CD and digital, with a nice booklet offering an appreciation of The Wiz, a synopsis of the show, the complete lyrics of all the songs on the album, complete credits for the album, and lots of photos. This booklet would make a nice companion for the DVD, but unfortunately, no one (except Criterion) does booklets for DVDs anymore.

The tracks are not culled from the broadcast, but studio-recorded. When we first saw the track listing, I noted it was very similar to the Original Broadway Cast Recording album.

  1. Prologue
  2. The Feeling We Once Had
  3. Tornado
  4. He's the Wizard
  5. Soon As I Get Home
  6. You Can't Win
  7. Ease On Down The Road
  8. Slide Some Oil To Me
  9. Mean Ole Lion
  10. Be A Lion
  11. So You Wanted To See The Wizard
  12. What Would I Do If I Could Feel
  13. We Got It
  14. Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News
  15. A Brand New Day
  16. Y'all Got It
  17. Believe in Yourself
  18. Home (same as the single track released in late November)
Yeah, take out "We Got It," swap out "You Can't Win" for "I Was Born On The Day Before Yesterday" and change the name of "A Brand New Day" to "Everybody Rejoice," and it'd be identical to the Original Broadway Cast album's listing.

I wonder if that was intentional, particularly as just as the OBC album mashed the last two versions of "Ease On Down the Road" together to make a new 2-verse version, and this new album uses that same arrangement. This verse isn't present on the album:
'Cause there may be times
When you think you lost your mind
And the steps you're takin'
Leave you three, four steps behind
You just keep on keepin'
On the road that you choose
Don't you give up walkin'
'Cause you gave up shoes,
 Overall, if you loved the songs as they were heard in the broadcast or the DVD, you'll love being able to play them on their own.

I do, however, wish they'd included more of the music. There was no need to cut "Ease On Down The Road" to one version, because with digital and CD, there was no limit on how long the album needed to run, unlike the Original Broadway Cast album. Well, CDs do hold up to 80 minutes. The tracks here have a running time of 48 minutes and 28 seconds, meaning there'd have been room for, at the very least, the music heard in the Emerald City scene or the Poppy scene.

Even with my quibbles, I'd recommend both the DVD and CD to fans of The Wiz! Unless you're reading this at a time when Universal has released it to Blu-Ray. Then definitely get the Blu-Ray instead of the DVD.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The "Legends of Oz" Could Return After All

Last year, Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, the first in a planned series of animated feature films based on Roger S. Baum's Oz books, impressed neither critics nor audiences. With an 18% on Rotten Tomatoes and a total worldwide gross of just $18.7 million (against a reported budget of at least $70 million), the film was, quite frankly, a flop. I've recently learned, however, that we may not have seen the last of the Legends of Oz franchise despite the failure of its first entry...

Conceptual artwork for
Star Guardians
Though Dorothy's Return was released as the first and only film from production company Summertime Entertainment, funding for the project was actually achieved over the span of eight years by investments in Dorothy of Oz, LLC; Emerald City of Oz, LLC; and Alpine Pictures, LLC. As Dorothy's Return was nearing completion, Summertime began developing a separate franchise, Star Guardians, which was to be funded by investments in Star Team, LLC. It now seems that all four of these entities have now been combined with something called Stereo Vision Entertainment, Inc. to create a "new, publicly traded company" called Inspirational Vision Media, LLC that plans to "launch marketing campaigns, call centers, and a P&A fund to promote IVM and SVE and to produce their stand-alone LLC film projects."

One of these film projects is what appears to be a second entry in the Legends of Oz film franchise, vaguely referred to in Inspirational Vision Media's joint venture plan (which you can read in its entirety here) several times as Back to Oz and once as Return to Oz. Per this plan shared with investors in the aforementioned LLCs, the newly formed company is looking to further exploit the Oz brand by releasing a new film with a "four wall, multi-media" marketing strategy that might also include apps and television projects. Because the wording in this plan is so vague, it is also possible that instead of (or even in addition to) producing a second Legends of Oz film, the company is simply planning to re-release the first film in some way, maybe even under a different title in an effort to "re-launch" the franchise. Either way, I think it's interesting that there is an effort being made to keep the Legends of Oz franchise alive (and to finally "generate earnings for the investors").

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return
executive producer Greg Centineo
Interestingly, none of the key players from the first film are mentioned in either the press release or in the joint venture plan. While Summertime Entertainment is all but confirmed to have been disbanded (or perhaps more accurately, a-bandoned), it is unclear if or how any of its founders and producers, such as Ryan Carroll, Roland Carroll, Bonne Radford, and Greg Centineo, will be involved in the franchise moving forward. I can't find anything online, however, to suggest that they've parted ways and are working on other projects. In fact, the only one of these four players that seems to be doing anything right now is Greg Centineo, who is one of the founders of Pulse Evolution Corporation, the "digital human animation studio" that created the hologram performances of Michael Jackson for the Billboard Music Awards last year and of Tupac for the Coachella Music Festival a couple of years earlier. Greg has also formed something called Tradition Studio, which supposedly produces "family-focused features" and houses "a state-of-the-art animation studio."

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return took almost eight years to make from development to release and failed to make back its budget despite a roster of "name" voice talent, a wide theatrical release, a decent marketing campaign, and a number of licensing deals and merchandise tie-ins; so personally, I'm not sure at this point if it's worth the effort or even possible to save the franchise, especially since IVM's plan suggests raising an additional $100 million from investors to do so. I guess time will tell if anything substantial comes from the forming of this company and if/how its plans for Legends of Oz materialize.

I'm curious, though, what do you think? Are you interested in seeing the Legends of Oz return, and, if so, how would you like to see the franchise move forward? Share your thoughts in the comments.

UPDATE: A "revised" plan for Inspirational Vision Media has surfaced, in which investors are assured that progress is making made in efforts to "turn around" the Oz franchise. Interestingly, Star Team, LLC is no longer a part of IVM, though IVM still holds the option to acquire it in the future. Revisions to the plan previously discussed include confirmation that there are plans (or hopes, at least) to re-release Dorothy's Return under a new title. Also confirmed is the intention to "generate a continuing flow of new content" from other books by Roger S. Baum. (Only seven of his books were initially optioned for development as feature films by Alpine Pictures, but IVM mentions ten.)

Monday, December 07, 2015

Shanice Williams Beats the Wiz

The Wiz Live! - The latest of NBC's live stage productions was also the first one I've seen. I hadn't seen The Wiz on stage before, but I did watch the rather bizarre movie version, see a review of the songs in Central Park earlier this year, and listen to the original cast recording. Not all of the original songs were included, but more were than in the film. Since someone who could actually sing (Queen Latifah) took the title role this time, we did get to hear a few of the character's songs, but not all of them. And the Scarecrow sang "You Can't Win" instead of "I Was Born the Day Before Yesterday." "You Can't Win" was originally written to be sung by the Winkie slaves, but cut from the show, then resurrected for Michael Jackson's Scarecrow in the movie. I'm not sure why they added a new song when they didn't even use all of the ones that already existed, but maybe it's like how there's a new song in the Les Miserables movie so that it could be nominated for an Oscar. Are there awards for original songs in television productions? I've seen complaints about the song performances, particularly Mary J. Blige doing "Don't Nobody Give Me No Bad News," but I didn't have any problems with them. I guess I'm just not as much of an audiophile.
The costumes were excellent, including totally over-the-top dresses for the witches and weird nightclub outfits for the inhabitants of the Emerald City. Shanice Williams made a really cute Dorothy, and original Broadway Dorothy Stephanie Mills made an appearance as Aunt Em. The effects were somewhat lacking, and I should point out that I hardly expected Hollywood-level special effects from a televised stage play. It was more that the credits announced members of Cirque de Soleil, but they weren't used particularly effectively. We didn't even get to see the Winged Monkeys do anything. By the way, the production called the Monkeys "Winged Warriors," perhaps due to the potential uncomfortable association with African-American actors playing monkeys. Probably not necessary, but since their role was so small, it didn't really matter anyway. And melting Evillene just made her disappear? Maybe they should have used the acrobat budget on a trapdoor instead. I've also seen complaints about the modern humor they threw in, like Addaperle saying her magic slate was an Apple product (yes, they mentioned a sponsor in the production, then had their product not work properly) and the Wiz's giant head having an orange extension cord. While I can't say I found them especially funny, they didn't really bother me either. I kind of wonder how modern critics want updated productions of The Wizard of Oz to be. The story was published in 1900, the most famous movie came out in 1939, and The Wiz started in 1974. So would seventies references be acceptable, but not ones from after that? I also found it interesting that they made a few allusions to the MGM film, when I get the impression that the show was originally supposed to be totally distinct from that. Another comment I remember from Twitter is why the revelation that the Wiz was a woman was included at all, since this was a land already ruled by women. Maybe it was sort of the equivalent of how the Wizard appeared to the Scarecrow in a supposedly female form back in the book. Overall, I enjoyed it very much, but did it really need so many commercial breaks?

Friday, December 04, 2015

The Wiz Live!

It's taken me a bit to sit down and write this one. Just, wow!

Back in 2012, when they announced a live TV version of The Sound of Music, I hoped that it would lead to a televised version of The Wiz. Why? Because most people don't know The Wiz as it originated on Broadway. They mostly know it from the movie, which literally tossed out the original script and wrote a new one around a different adaptation concept. And unlike some other musicals (Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, Rent, Victor/Victoria, The Phantom of the Opera), there's no filmed version of the play on home video for people to see and become familiar with. (Aside from some bootlegs...)

And then, after last year's Peter Pan Live!, people were asking "what will be NBC's next live musical?" I automatically said, "They should do The Wiz!" Some felt it unlikely, but a year later, here we are.

NBC announced a great cast to lead the musical, but some news was met with trepidation, such as going for "You Can't Win" instead of "I Was Born On The Day Before Yesterday" for the Scarecrow, a number of songs not appearing on the soundtrack track listing, a female take on the title character, and when the details of script revision by Harvey Fierstein were divulged, more than a few eyebrows were raised. One friend who was at a press event even told me the book had wholly been rewritten.

Well, last night, I pulled up Twitter and watched on TV to see how it was.

Overall... After having expectations lowered, I was impressed!

I'm not going to walk you through the story as it is, of course, the story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. William F. Brown's original script for The Wiz is largely adhered to, although several items are omitted, generally for pacing, though the loss of some nice jokes make me still recommend that anyone interested in The Wiz pick up a copy of the script book.

Fierstein attempts to strengthen Dorothy's character by introducing the idea that she has recently come to live with Aunt Em (Uncle Henry is not mentioned in this version at all, but we do have some farmhands ala MGM, which has been done in productions of The Wiz before). It's established that Dorothy's parents died (they note that previous versions gloss over this detail, but Baum's original book says she's an orphan) and that Dorothy misses her old life in Omaha, Nebraska. This is something Harvey returns to.

One thing brought over from the musical is that Toto doesn't go to Oz. This actually spurred a trend on Twitter, asking where Toto was. Quite simply, having to deal with a dog onstage is tricky, particularly in a show like The Wiz where there is also a lot of dancing. So, for this take on the story, Toto stays behind in Kansas. (In the original play, he reappears in the final moments of the show, signifying that Dorothy got home.)

The Tornado was depicted by camera effects, some wire-flying, and Cirque Du Soleil dancers. I'm going to have to admit that for all we saw of those famous performers (the Tornado, the Kalidahs, people of the Emerald City(?), the Winged Warriors and Glinda's handmaidens), there was nothing that stood out so much as to convince me that they needed someone of that talent.

The transformations onstage (moving from scene to scene) were performed by some changing scenery and some projected backdrops, which allowed  for some nice visuals that didn't really detract from the acting. The Wiz was originally staged with minimal set design, and this allowed for them to repeat that, but also have more.

So, as Dorothy heads down the yellow brick road, her aim is not to head back to Aunt Em and Toto, but to go back to her old life in Omaha, even though Aunt Em pointed out that there's nothing for her back there but an empty apartment. During the Kalidah scene (after the Lion joins the party), a Kalidah almost tempts Dorothy into giving her the Silver Shoes by appearing as her mother before the Tin Man stops her. Later, the Lion sneakily defeats the Poppies in the Poppy Fields (instead of falling asleep, anyone caught there becomes their slave until winter). The Emerald City now looks more like a dance club, and the gatekeeper has even been renamed the Bouncer, and most of his dialogue rewritten to reflect that.

The Wiz uses a big, mechanical head to talk to the four friends at first before the Wiz appears in person, singing "So You Wanted To Meet The Wizard," and after they are tasked with killing Evilene, the other friends decide they can't do it, launching into the new song "We Got It," which now feels a little forced at that moment and doesn't feel like a Wiz song, although it's not bad.

Evilene has taken over a boiler factory and it's here that her scenes are played out. The "Funky Monkeys" sequence was far too short, being over in just a minute as the "Winged Warriors" drop a net over Dorothy and her friends. (Apparently, a few things were changed out of concerns of racial connections...) Evilene's exit felt a little too quick as she disappears in a burst of steam with nothing left behind. The Winkies remove their work clothes, revealing yellow clothes underneath as they sing "Brand New Day."

Back in the Emerald City, the Wiz is unmasked as a woman from Omaha who was a magician's assistant but ran off in the balloon after he "pushed her too far." She then tells Dorothy's friends that they have the qualities they seek all along, and then Scarecrow and Dorothy convince the Wiz to use the balloon to go back home. At the last minute, Dorothy realizes she should go back to Kansas, not Omaha and refuses to go with the Wiz. (Although, you know, Omaha is a lot closer to Kansas, so... It'd still be a step in the right direction...)

The script stayed pretty faithful to Brown's original script throughout Act 1, largely changing in Act 2 with Evilene. Harvey updated a good bit of dialogue, though he brushed out some other funny moments. ("A pox on your house!" "A pox on my house?" "A pox on both your houses!" "My summer place, too?")

Although I'm sure the most critical could point out problems, I had few issues with the cast. I loved Stephanie Mills as Aunt Em, Shanice Williams as Dorothy, Elijah Kelley, Ne-Yo and David Alan Grier as her friends, and Amber Riley as Addaperle "The Feel Good Girl!" Common as the Bouncer nicely filled the role, but honestly, I'd rather just like to get a copy of his costume...

Mary J. Blige as Evilene was quite mean, and while she did a great rendition of "No Bad News," I would have preferred it to be sung by someone who could really belt it out. Uzo Aduba's Glinda was lovely, but I felt her time onstage was even more abbreviated without her singing "A Rested Body Is A Rested Mind" and some of the jokes present in the original Brown script.

This brings us to Queen Latifah as The Wiz. This is—to my knowledge—the first time the character of the Wizard of Oz has been genderbent, but Queen did such a fine job, I was actually hoping they would not have done that to the character, but just had Queen play a male role. To be honest, though, I'm not sure why genderbending the character required a backstory change. Couldn't the Wizard's original backstory work for a female version just as well? Overall, I'm fine with how it ended up, however.

And now for music. Four songs from the original musical lineup were dropped: "I Was Born On The Day Before Yesterday" (the Scarecrow's original song, which actually makes a nice foil to "You Can't Win), "Who Do You Think You Are?" (a song sung by the four friends when they discover the Wiz is a phony),  "Believe in Yourself #1" (sung by the Wiz as he or she assures Dorothy's friends they had what they sought all along), and "A Rested Body Is A Rested Mind" (sung by Glinda as she makes her entrance). As mentioned in other blogs, "Who Do You Think You Are" and "A Rested Body Is A Rested Mind" have never had a commercially released recording. In addition, several instrumental only pieces are cut quite short, particularly "Overture" and "Funky Monkeys."

Perhaps if plans to bring this version to Broadway don't fall through, some of these songs could be reinstated. I know I'm not alone in the hope that such a revival could produce its own cast recording album.

Seems like it all came together all right, right? Well... No... Some of the camera work was off. You could still follow the story quite well, but as I noted above, if Cirque Du Soleil did something truly spectacular, I missed it. Some closeups should have been wide shots and vice versa. Most criminally of all, we only got to see Dorothy clicking her heels one and a half times instead of three.

Although people who'll see this on home video will not see this, the timeslot was certainly overstuffed with commercials. Without them, The Wiz Live ran for a little less than two hours, but the timeslot was about two hours and forty-five minutes. On my end, we had some abrupt resuming of the show, including losing the first thirty seconds of the scene where Dorothy and company return to the Emerald City after Evilene's death. It was nice to see some ads for Wicked, though, and be reminded that I'll be seeing that next year at last.

Even though there were several quibbles I had, I'd definitely suggest people check out this version of The Wiz for an enjoyable production that hews much closer to the original play than the 1978 film.

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.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Two Stories from Mother Goose in Prose

Jared selects two stories from L. Frank Baum's Mother Goose in Prose for Christmas: "What Jack Horner Did" and "Little Bun Rabbit."

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