The Wiz Live! - December 03



The Wiz Live! — What's Different, What's New and What's Going to Broadway

By Michael Gioia
29 Nov 2015


It's been 40 years since The Wiz bowed on Broadway, and the creative team over at NBC decided it was time for some renovations on the Yellow Brick Road. As Dorothy and her pals prepare to ease onto national television, we take an in-depth look at how The Wiz has been remade for its 2015 incarnation.


PAVING A NEW ROAD: Sprucing up the story

Over dinner, writer Harvey Fierstein gave director Kenny Leon a lecture on how important The Wiz was to him as a young Jewish boy from Brooklyn — as important as seeing Fiddler on the Roof for the first time — which is why he could not be the person to rework The Wiz's material for the NBC live musical event.


When Leon first offered Fierstein the opportunity, "I said, 'I am so flattered, but I don't think you need this little Jew to write this. You need some African-American — the way it was written originally,' And he said, 'Harvey, [original book writer] William Brown was white!' I said, 'Kenny, his name was Brown.' So, after he shot me down, then we started talking about what could be accomplished, and it was beautifully exciting. He had some really gorgeous ideas."


The pair started by addressing long-felt sticking points. Fierstein admits to always taking issue with certain plot points in "The Wizard of Oz," and Leon finds the act break of The Wiz problematic. So, both got to work on a new incarnation of The Wiz (adjusting aspects of the classic L. Frank Baum story, adding to the Charlie Smalls-William F. Brown musical and keeping in mind that the NBC musical presentation is planning to transfer to Broadway next season).

Leon's initial questions included: "Who is Aunt Em? Who is Uncle? Why?"


"Let's give it a context," he says. "There are so many [children], especially kids of color, who live in foster homes or live with their uncles or with their aunts or are raised by their grandmother… Home is just where the love is. So I think we all have gotten together to drive that home, specifically from an African-American point of view, but to make sure it has a universal appeal for all of us."


For Fierstein, he also had questions. "What happened to Dorothy's parents? And what is her journey? And is she just a victim? Because she didn't [purposefully] kill the witch — the house gets picked up," he says. "And so I made her not a victim. I made her in charge of her own life. And, I made it about a real journey to figure something out…. the Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow always had something to figure out, but Dorothy didn't, so we gave her something to figure out. I took my childhood questions, and I got to play with it. It was a dream."


Rather than Dorothy being helplessly swept up into the tornado (against her will), Fierstein imagines her as more of a stubborn runaway, who wishes the whole thing upon herself — "It's her dream after all," he says.


"It has to come in that mind of what a kid wants," he explains, "and so I started there. I wanted to say her parents are dead — it never said that. I wanted to say, 'I hate living with you' to her aunt. It's never said, right? In the movie, [she wants to leave] because her dog gets in trouble in [Miss Gulch's] garden, but I wanted to [say], 'I hate this school. I hate these kids. I hate living in Kansas. I want to go back to Omaha. That's where I was born; that's where I belong.'"

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