The Wiz Live! (2015)

7.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Like the set and costumes, better casting than previous entries

Overly long, some story problems

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Wiz Live!

Studio:  NBC

Genre(s):  Musical/Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Family

Release Date(s):  December 3, 2015

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated


I’m not quite sure that this bouncer is alive…

Dorothy (Shanice Williams) is whisked away from her home in Kansas and finds herself in the Land of Oz.  There she meets the Scarecrow (Elijah Kelley), the Tin Man (Ne-Yo), and the Cowardly Lion (David Alan Grier) and is sent on an adventure to find the Wiz (Queen Latifah).  When she learns she must kill the Wicked Witch of the West Evillene (Mary J. Blige) for a chance to get back home, Dorothy must face her fears and decide where she really belongs if she ever hopes to return home.

Directed by Kenny Leon and Mathew Diamond, The Wiz Live! was a performance broadcast on NBC on December 3, 2015.  The live musical is based on the 1974 stage play The Wiz (or The Wiz:  The Super Soul Musical) and is not based on the motion picture released in 1978.  The production follows NBC’s other live musicals The Sound of Music Live! (2013) and Peter Pan Live! (2014).


Wait…Everyone is supposed to believe this is a very girly man?

I saw the movie version of The Wiz when I was a kid.  It was actually kind of scary with horrifying living puppets, killer trashcans, and a wicked witch who runs a sweatshop.  The Sound of Music Live! was bad, Peter Pan Live! was tolerable, but The Wiz Live! had potential due to the fact the makers aren’t dealing with a story that is as well-known, and actors and actresses more suited to the live performance roles.

The only thing hurting The Wiz Live! in regards to the story is that there is a lot assumed by the audience.  Many assume it is simply an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz with an all African American cast.  Others assume that it is an adaptation of The Wiz movie released in ’78.  The Wiz Live! is both and neither at the same time.  Yes, it adapts the story of Oz, but it isn’t a straight adaptation, and yes it takes aspects of the movie, but it is closer to the stage production of The Wiz.  There are some modernizations with references to Eddie Murphy and iPads, but performance does manage to stand on its own.


I don’t think she’s a wicked witch…I think she’s just misunderstood.

The cast for this production is much better than the casts for the previous Live! productions.  Most of the cast are stage performers or singers and there is little conflict between film and TV acting and stage acting (like in both Peter Pan Live! and The Sound of Music Live!).  Everyone seems to be on the same page.  The witches and the Wiz (played by Mary J. Blige, Uzo Aduba, Amber Riley, and Queen Latifah) steal the show and hold the stage.  Blige gives a nice theater-eque performance as the Witch of the West while it is nice to see Uzo Aduba get away from her Orange Is the New Black Crazy-Eyes character.  Elijah Kelley, Ne-Yo and David Alan Grier do a good job as the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Lion, but Common was a little wooden as the Emerald City bouncer.  Shanice Williams was a good, likeable discovery for Dorothy and it was fun to see her perform with the original The Wiz Dorothy actress Stephanie Mills who played Aunt Em here.


Are you lookin’ at my eyes? My “Crazy-Eyes”?

Visually, the productions of these Live! shows is quite high.  It is challenging to do sets that can be moved in and out easily while still looking good on HD TV, but they do a good job.  There were a few live slip ups, but overall the look was great and with some fantastic costumes.

Though overall, it is a positive experience watching The Wiz Live!, there are some drawbacks.  The story takes a while to get going and the idea that we’re not supposed to know Queen Latifah was a woman is rather under explained during her first appearance and performance.  The musical feels drawn out and with commercial breaks (which are somewhat necessary for sets and “regrouping” for the actors and actresses), it feels like it should have been a two hour event instead of a three hour event.

I like these experimental Live! shows not necessarily for the Live! aspect which gives it more of a stage feel (which I realize is the purpose).  I wonder what this would have looked like as a polished recorded performance (along with the other Live! shows).  I hope that The Wiz Live! does well enough to continue on with this trend and NBC will continue to modify the format.  The Wiz Live! was followed by Hairspray Live! in 2016.

Related Links:

The Wiz (1978)

The Sound of Music Live! (2013)

Peter Pan Live! (2014)

Grease:  Live! (2016)

Hairspray Live! (2016)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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