My first contact with THE WIZ was when I saw the movie adaptation starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson back in 1981. I wasn’t a fan of neither of them, but I loved THE WIZARD OF OZ and the idea of seeing another musical based on the story appealed to me. The new score by Charlie Smalls sounded a little bit too modern for my taste, but I loved HOME and my favorite moment was when the great Lena Horne sung “Believe In Yourself”.
Later, much later, I got the original Broadway cast recording, but once again the music didn’t conquered me. So, I approached this television live recording with caution and got an enjoyable surprise.
Orchestrator Stephen Oremus did a good job, giving the pop-soul score a more exciting and musical feeling. Just listen to the “Prologue” and the emotional song that follows, “The Feeling We Once had”, sung by Stephanie Mills (Broadway’s original Dorothy), and you will want to listen to the rest.
As Dorothy, Shanice Williams, whose voice is similar to Stephanie Mills, shines, delivering her songs with heart and soul. She has a sweet strong voice that works perfectly with “Soon as I Get Home”, “Be a Lion” and my favorite song of the score, the beautiful “Home”. My other favorite track is the powerful “Believe in Yourself”, here sung with gusto by Uzo Aduba as Glinda. As Evillene, Mary J. Blige has a good time with “Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News”, Amber Riley (from GLEE) shows her talent with “He’s the Wizard” and it’s a pity that she doesn’t have any more songs. As the Wiz, Queen Latifah don’t sound like her, maybe her songs don’t do justice to her vocal qualities.
Dorothy’s friends’ songs “You Can’t Win” (Elijah Kelley as the Scarecrow), “Slide Some Oil to Me” (Ne-Yo as the Tin Man) and “Mean Ole Lion” (David Alan Grier as the Lion) are too modern for me and I was never very fond of “Easy on Down the Road”. The song “We Got It” seems out of place and in fact it was written by Elijah Kelley and Stephen Oremus for this production; well, maybe it works better on television.
I believe this new recording will appeal to young people who will love the exhilarating “A Brand New Day “ by Luther Vandross (he wrote if for the original Broadway production) and will also satisfy older ones like me, who will let the emotional songs lift their spirits.