NBC’s ‘The Wiz Live!’ Casts Cowardly Lion and Dorothy
With the holiday season only months away, NBC is finalizing its cast for The Wiz Live!, finding a multi-talented, multi-time Tony nominee for one of the more exuberant roles in the show.
Three-time Tony Award nominee David Alan Grier will play the Cowardly Lion in the live production of the 1975 Wizard of Oz-themed musical. Obviously, Grier is no stranger to live theater (those Tony nominations didn’t happen by accident, after all), as he’s starred in the original Broadway production of Dreamgirls, played Jackie Robinson in The First, and even earned a Grammy nomination for his role in Porgy and Bess. So he’s done a whole hell of a lot more than In Living Color, Martin, and Chocolate News. The man is a real talent.
Meanwhile, newcomer Shanice Williams will play the lead role of Dorothy. The 18-year-old New Jersey native won the role out of hundreds of applicants nationwide. To her credit, calling her a “newcomer” (which the press release does) feels like a bit of a misnomer. Maybe she hasn’t been in the national spotlight, but she’s an accomplished talent in her own right. With five years of musical training under her belt — including “extensive dance and piano” — Williams has co-starred in several local productions, from West Side Story and 42nd Street, to Seussical and Pippin.
Last year Williams was nominated for best leading actress in a musical at the Paper Mill Playhouse’s annual Rising Star Awards. And when you consider the level of talent backing Williams behind the scenes (including Dreamgirls choreographer Fatima Robinson The Book of Mormon music director, orchestrator and music co-producer Stephen Oremus), this should be a great breakout role for her.
Grier and Williams join a cast that includes Queen Latifah as The Wiz, Mary J. Blige as Evillene the Wicked Witch of the West, and Stephanie Mills as Auntie Em. Mills is a veteran of the original show, having originated the role of Dorothy on Broadway.
Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are returning as producers for the third straight year of live NBC musicals, as the duo brought The Sound of Music Live! and Peter Pan Live! to the screen. Meanwhile, Kenny Leon will direct the live special, which has a lot to live up to, considering The Wiz won seven Tony Awards in its day. If nothing else, NBC is hoping the musical will improve on the disappointing numbers for Peter Pan Live!, which didn’t do nearly as well as in the ratings as The Sound of Music Live! did the year previous (although it was every bit as fun, I’d argue). Then again, I doubt any show was going to, considering the novelty of the first live broadcast television musical in years, and the intrigue of seeing whether or not Carrie Underwood could pull off live theater. The Wiz Live! could have a similar pull, however, if the production continues to rope in first-rate talent. This cast so far is certainly a start.
I suppose we’ll see how the production comes together when The Wiz Live! premieres Thursday, Dec. 3 on NBC.
But what do you think of David Alan Grier as The Cowardly Lion, Queen Latifah as The Wiz, and Mary J. Blige as The Wicked Witch of the West? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on The Wiz Live!, check out the latest on rumors of Beyonce joining the cast!