He Said, She Said: Two Critics Discuss ‘The Wiz Live’
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The debate over The Wiz Live rages on: Did the star-studded remake nail it or fail? The ratings say it nailed it—a cool 11.5 million people tuned in last night. But some viewers, like veteran music critic Chuck Arnold weren’t so impressed, while writer Mekeisha Madden Toby thought it was magical. Here, they share their thoughts.

Mekeisha Madden Toby writes:

It’s a brand new day. A day when you smile a little more and laugh a little easier after watching The Wiz Live! on TV. Yes, it was that good. Like three boxes of tissues, tweeting around the clock, call your momma and cousins good. 

For starters, Stephanie Mills – Stephanie Mills! – was in it and she was wonderful as Auntie Em. Talk about full circle. She played Dorothy 40 years ago and proved equally enchanting as Dorothy’s wise and loving aunt.

When she sang “The Feeling We Once Had,” it was as if she were speaking to our souls. That “feeling” is the first time we saw The Wiz on stage and on the screen, the first time we heard Mills sing “Home” all those years ago and the first time it hit us that seeing all those Black people acting, singing and dancing their hearts out on such a grand and ornate scale was not only inspiring but overdue. 

It’s a feeling of pride that came rushing back with The Wiz Live! Seeing Mills was a delight but watching her pass the baton to the more than capable hands of star Shanice Williams warmed our hearts. Williams has the voice to sing “Home” and sing it well but more importantly she turned out to be the perfect Dorothy – youthful, winsome and relatable. What a great role model for young viewers and fans of this family-friendly offering.

The same goes for the rest of the impressive cast behind The Wiz Live! Elijah Kelley smartly played Scarecrow, Ne-Yo made our hearts smile as Tin-Man and David Alan Grier boldly stole every scene he could as the Cowardly Lion. His lion locs were also on point as were his Tae Bo moves. His and other characters use of modern terms such as “shade” “represent” and “slay” were also noted and appreciated. This is a modern take after all.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the undeniably strong performances delivered by Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Amber Riley and Uzo Aduba. Funny, timely fierce and believable all four women brought the heat as the Wizard, Evillene, Addapearle and Glinda the Good respectively. Riley had the strongest vocal performance of the four but no one can deny the singing talent Latifah, Blige and Aduba have. Seriously, how good did it feel to see a chocolate Dorothy and a chocolate Glinda? Goosebumps. Goose Bumps.

Like I said, it’s a brand new day. Now excuse me while I download the soundtrack for The Wiz Live! I’ve got singing and smiling to do.

Chuck Arnold writes:

It was never going to be as simple as easing on down the road to bring The Wiz back to life for last night’s adaptation of the 1975 Broadway musical that aired live on NBC.

After all, this is sacred ground, making it virtually impossible to live up to the Tony-winning original or even the critically panned 1978 movie version (which still gets unconditional love from Black folks). It’s pretty telling that one of the highlights came early on when Stephanie Mills—the first Dorothy, now Auntie Em 40 years later—sang “The Feeling We Once Had”  to the new Dorothy, Shanice Williams. It was almost as if Mills, who could still drop a house on the competition with that voice, was warning us not to expect the same feeling about The Wiz Live! And in fact, this production didn’t recapture that magic. You can blame some of it on the fact that it’s hard for a live musical to translate to the small screen without an audience applauding and laughing—the energy felt oddly flat at times—and the sets and special effects just look cheesier on TV than they would if you were watching in a theater.

But the choreography (aside from a voguing section in the Emerald City) and the one new tune (“We Got It”) didn’t sparkle. And although newcomer Williams proved technically capable as a singer, soaring on “Home,” she lacked a certain soul and the stage presence to carry the show. But Ne-Yo displayed real showmanship as the Tin Man, making “Slide Some Oil to Me” and “What Would I Do If I Could Feel?” his own, while David Alan Grier clowned and charmed as a Cowardly Lion with dreads. Queen Latifah (The Wiz), Mary J. Blige (Evilene), and Orange Is the New Black’s Uzo Aduba had fun with their roles.

Where do you stand? Was The Wiz Live! a winner in your book?

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