‘The Wiz Live!’ packs on the star power in NBC special
Newcomer Shanice Williams is looking forward to her adventure as Dorothy with her trusty dog Toto in NBC’s “The Wiz Live!”
Life’s a journey — and the ride often gets bumpy. That’s what NBC’s “The Wiz Live!” is all about, says the effervescent 19-year-old newcomer who stars as Dorothy in this show airing Thursday at 8 p.m.
“The message of the show is that you have to find out who you are,” says Shanice Williams. “And sometimes you have to go through a lot to discover who you really are.”
That includes, say, getting swept up in a tornado and plunked down in the middle of a wacky world in which there are nice and nasty witches, flying monkeys and a sorcerer who doesn’t always make good on promises.
That’s what becomes of Dorothy as she eases on down the yellow brick road in the musical based on “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”
“The Wiz” won a Tony Award for best musical in 1975 and three years later spawned a movie version with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.
“You need to go through things like that in life,” Williams adds. “Because you never know what you really have until you lose it.”
Yep, “The Wiz” is a musical with something serious to say. But it goes down easy — and groovily and exuberantly — thanks to an irresistible score that blends gospel, R&B and pop.
Dorothy and her Yellow Brick Road pals set out to find the Wiz, played by Queen Latifah, in NBC’s “The Wiz Live!”
Breakout hits like “Ease on Down the Road,” “Everybody Rejoice” and the soul-stirring “Home” are guaranteed to bring a lump to your throat.
“I love that song,” says Williams, who’ll put her stamp on it on Thursday. Like NBC’s productions of “The Sound of Music” with Carrie Underwood and “Peter Pan” with Allison Williams, the Peacock’s presentation of “The Wiz” is packed with a galaxy of famous faces.
There’s so much star power you might want to shade your eyes with the green glasses that are a thing in Oz.
Consider: Queen Latifah is the Wiz; Mary J. Blige is Evilene; David Alan Grier is the Cowardly Lion; Uzo Aduba is Glinda the Good Witch; Ne-Yo is the Tin Man; Amber Riley is Addaperle, the Good Witch of the North; Elijah Kelley is the Scarecrow, and Common is the Bouncer in Oz.
Williams was studying musical theater in college when she auditioned for “The Wiz” in an open call and got the part. “I studied for a year in Los Angeles, then I came home and got this job.”
Last month, Williams met Stephanie Mills, Broadway’s original Dorothy, who plays Aunt Em in NBC’s TV special.
Common plays the Bouncer in Oz in NBC’s “The Wiz Live!”
The encounter was captured for a network documentary about the show that premiered Wednesday. Behind the scenes, Williams giggled with delight when they met.
“My heart is beating so fast,” said Williams. She danced as she did a little bit of Mills’ late ’70s hit song “What Cha Gonna Do With My Lovin’.”
“Shanice reminds me of me when I was her age,” says Mills, 58. “She’s a beautiful spirit.”
Director Kenny Leon concurs. Minutes after he watched her audition he sent an email to the producers.
“I think we found our Dorothy,” he noted.
They had. And, like the character she plays on Thursday, Williams is discovering who she is.
“I relate to everything Dorothy goes through,” she says. “I feel like we’re the same person.”
With Paul Chi