"The Wiz Live!" exceeded everybody's expectations. Even with a heavy advertising campaign, nobody could have been prepared for so many dynamic performances in one show. Then again, that is what "The Wiz" has always been - a series of vocally demanding, soulful solo songs tied together through a modern telling of "The Wizard of Oz." The tv special attracted two categories of people. First, a group of theater fans whose familiarity of the show made them wonder how 19-year-old Shanice Williams could possibly compare to Stephanie Mills' original performance as Dorothy. Meanwhile, a group of curious onlookers tuned in to see what this "black Wizard of Oz" could possibly be like. I believe that the first group was thrilled by the fearless performances by every single actor on screen. More importantly, I believe that a new audience fell in love with "The Wiz" tonight. The casting crew deserves an Emmy. Elijah Kelly rocked the Scarecrow song, Ne-Yo surprised me with an amazing Broadway voice/great acting/sick dance moves, and David Alan Greer stole the show from the moment that he appeared as the Cowardly Lion. I loved Mary J. Blige as Evillene as she captured the aggressive manner of the character, Amber Riley was funny as Addaperle, and Stephanie Mills set the tone for the entire show with a stirring rendition of "The Feeling We Once Had" in the role of Aunt Em. I was skeptical about a female Wiz, but the singing range worked well and I think that it added to the fraudulent nature of The Wiz. Plus Queen Latifah's energy drove the second half of the show. The only performance that I didn't care for was Glinda, who lacked the sensitivity that I expect from a refined character. It was more of a flaw in the vocal direction, as nobody should ask Glinda to be a screamer. There were a few sour notes throughout the show, but that cannot be avoided in a vocally demanding live performance like this. The one note that definitely was NOT sour was that ridiculously high note that the one guy popped out in "Ya'll Got It." That may have been the single greatest moment of the show. The writers took a lot of liberties with the script and orchestrations, but this is a show that is meant to be modernized and the improvisatory nature of the songs made all of the alterations feel correct. One of the best surprises of the night was the addition of "We Got It." It felt different due to its modern pop chord structure, but it carried a lot of emotion and I would love to hear it on mainstream radio. The sets were nothing special, adding pressure to the performers to carry the show. And they did. Everything down to the choreography and ensemble were inspired. The cherry on top was Williams' closing performance of "Home," an emotional climax with truly unbelievable vocals. Her voice isn't my favorite, but she owned it. I love the musical theater Renaissance that our country is experiencing and I believe that "The Wiz"found its way into many peoples' hearts with the inexplicable chemistry of this cast.
[Pictured: "The Wiz Live" is an endless series of amazing performances by amazing actors]