By Chelsie Hall and Bella LaChance
Premiering live on NBC in 2015, The Wiz Live! is a new, adapted performance of the original Broadway musical in 1975. It was produced by Neil Meron and Craig Zadan. The Wiz Live! presents the blues, soul, and R&B in a set of musical performances. The story of The Wiz Live! is not extremely different from The Wiz!, but it has a more urban cast and setting to it. This version of the musical was so important because of the Black cast that it had, including Mary J. Blige and Queen Latifah. Compared to the Wizard of Oz, The Wiz Live! has culturally brought together so many families. Children, teenagers, and adults all enjoyed the more upbeat version of Dorothy finding the Wiz. Through the dialogue, dancing, and singing, Black culture was thoroughly represented during the whole production of The Wiz Live!
Bella LaChance (BL) is a freshman who is looking into majoring in Human Organizational Development or Communications. She currently is living in Nashville and is playing basketball throughout her academic career at Vanderbilt.
Chelsie Hall (CH) is a senior, who will be graduating this spring. She majored in Human Organizational Development and had an amazing basketball career at Vanderbilt. Chelsie is taking her talents to Louisville to complete her graduate degree.
On a beautiful Sunday morning on April 11th, Chelsie Hall and Bella LaChance came together to describe and talk about their love for The Wiz Live! More information about what they thought and analyzed will be presented next!
BL: Hi Chels! I can ask you the first question about The Wiz Live! What did you think when you watched it for the first time?
CH: Watching The Wiz Live! for the first time was really entertaining. I had never seen it before so I was excited to watch an all black cast perform. I’m usually not the biggest musical fan because of all the singing but I really enjoyed all the singing and dancing while watching The Wiz Live! And when I looked up the cast, I got even more excited to see that Ne-Yo and Queen Latifah were in it. The musical did not disappoint. From song to song, I was ready to get up and start dancing. I could listen to them all day and for once I wasn’t frustrated with hearing a song every 5 minutes. Was this your first time watching it too or have you seen it already?
BL: I totally agree with you on your analysis of the show! This was my first time watching it and I loved it! I thought it was way better than the normal Wizard of Oz. Funny story actually. When I was younger, I saw the Wizard of Oz in Canada and I fell asleep watching. Throughout this musical, I was singing and bobbing my head to all of the different songs. They were great dancers also, which is way more entertaining than usual musicals. I feel like in other musicals the performers are sometimes off beat. The most special thing about this musical was how authentic and real it was. How did you think this play portrayed black representation?
CH: The dancing was actually insane!! I mean I feel like I can dance a little bit but definitely not as good as them. To have an all black cast, there is obviously black representation. I really enjoyed the way this musical showcased Black culture and how talented we can really be. It’s really encouraging to see Black talent solely being displayed especially in a positive light. I feel like the producers, Meron and Zadan, knew how important this musical was going to be for the culture and they wanted to make sure they represented the Black community in a positive light. It really helps when the producers and creative team understand the culture and really make an effort to display the uniqueness of it. You can tell how much effort they put into the casting, the costumes, and even the sound and lights. Black culture is represented everywhere in the musical. Also, the musical not only showed Black excellence but also showed social progress. Dorothy being an intelligent, caring, and charismatic, young woman who was not afraid to say what she believed and would hold everyone around her accountable, represented feminism. While also having the Wiz be a gender-bending character showing the Queer culture being openly embraced on stage.
BL: I mean yes you and I both know you can dance more than just a little bit. I also focused on the Black representation in a positive light. It did feel so refreshing to see all the smiles and passion being put into this production by such special characters. I love your mention of the gender-bending character as well. Most musicals or entertainment businesses would be scared to put out characters who are not the normal gender stereotype. The Wiz Live! really checks all of the boxes regarding inclusion of Black culture and gender-bending characters. People who watch this musical will feel involved and accepted, which also brings more viewers to the show. That really was a great point that you brought up!
CH: For a Black queer woman like myself, the Wiz being gender-bending was something really cool to see! I was actually confused at first because I knew Queen Latifah was supposed to be the Wiz and when she came out, I wasn’t sure if she was supposed to be male or female. So, I did a little bit of research and realized that they actually did it on purpose. And I also learned that during the scene that Dorothy and her crew get let into Emerald City, the choreographer, Fatima Robinson, paid tribute to the art of Vogue which is a style of dance that begun in the Black queer ballroom in the 1980s.
BL: Wow I had no clue about the connection to Vogue! That makes me love this musical even more! I love that gif too. Speaking of dancing, what is your favorite dance number in the musical? Mine is “Ease on Down the Road.” The stage was set up incredibly, especially during the Flower scene where “Ease on Down the Road” was sung. It featured several other characters that were picked up by Dorothy throughout the song. As soon as the song begins, you can tell there is an R&B, soul, and blues spin on it. The lyrics within this song were very fitting to the rest of the musical. For example, when they sang, “Come on, ease on down, ease on down the road,” the repetition of the lyrics stuck in viewers’ heads for days. I was singing “Ease on down the road,” for like three days after I watched the musical. This updated version of the song “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” keeps the listener and watcher entertained because of the continuous changes of beats throughout the number. The tempo was more upbeat and fast paced compared to the original Wizard of Oz. The dance moves were on beat and filled with rhythm throughout the entirety of the number. There were a lot of stepping and hand movements that changed as the beat would drop. I mean look at the gif of the tin man dancing!
CH: I think we can both agree that Ne-Yo did not disappoint as Tin Man, not only was his singing amazing but his dance moves were always on point. My favorite dance number would have to be “You Can’t Win.” At first it seems like it’s going to be a sad song because Scarecrow is trapped by the Crows but as the song starts to play, you hear the up-beat tempo. From the trumpets to the crows dancing, it makes this “negative” song seem fun. I enjoyed watching the crows flip around the stage and my favorite part was when Scarecrow started to buss a move. He was able to finally get down from the pole he was on and he was able to show off some of his moves. With the dark lighting and black costumes of the Crows, Scarecrow sticks out even more with his yellow undertones. It was a really fun performance to watch, and it made me want to get up and start dancing too. And let me show off Scarecrow real quick.
BL: Okay okay you win for sure with Scarecrow dancing. I loved the analysis we had talking about The Wiz Live! I hope we can work together again soon Chels!
CH: So glad we got to talk about this amazing musical!
After finishing the discussion, Chelsie and Bella were able to discuss the different tactics used by the writers and everyone involved with this musical to show Black representation through entertainment. Black Culture was highlighted throughout every costume, dance number, and song that was sung. More musicals like this in the entertainment business must be portrayed for everyone to see and love!