Shanice Williams will play Dorothy in The Wiz Live! and she is ready to put on the performance of a lifetime.
Williams is making her acting debut in the show. Considering the amount of material that she has to learn and pressures that come with being the lead, Williams is handling the stress well. Everyone is impressed by the newcomer. “Kenny [Leon] has this saying: If you’re going to pray don’t worry and if you’re going to worry don’t pray. I’m going to be doing a lot of praying. I’ve already been doing a lot of praying,” she says of handling all the pressure.
Fortunately, she has a talented and unique cast to back her up including Stephanie Mills who played Dorothy in the first Broadway production of The Wiz. Mills has come full circle now playing the role of Aunt Em. “People keep saying ‘passing the torch,’ but I just feel like when she’s with me anything’s possible,” Williams said.
Mills hasn’t given an abundance of advice to Williams though, instead saying Williams already has a grip on what she has to do and Mills “gives her love,” rather than any specific advice. Mills is happy to continue the legacy of The Wiz and the magic it brings to viewers. “Everybody sometimes feels like they may not be smart enough or weren’t as compassionate as they should be. So, I think it’s a story that relates in every scenario in life.”
Queen Latifah is another big name in the show playing The Wiz and she’s also struck by the amount of talent in this cast. “They could be doing a million different things, they have careers but we are all here for one reason,” she said.
For much of the cast that reason is to make viewers feel how they felt when they first saw The Wiz. For Mary J Blige who plays Evillene, it gave her belief. “When you see Michael Jackson and Diana Ross, who are the untouchables and the biggest entertainers of our times, it makes you think you can do it too because it’s Michael Jackson and he’s the scarecrow. So it just gave me hope, it inspired me, it encouraged me, it told me I had in me what I needed already to make it in the world.”
Latifah had a similar experience seeing the original Broadway show. She said The Wiz, “felt more relatable. It felt like Oz wasn’t just a fantasy land it was a place I could go and a place that made me feel something different than any other place in the world. Seeing Stephanie Mills perform this, I was with her; I took this ride alone.” She went on to say that that performance was what led her to audition for more school plays just to be involved.
Amber Riley is particularly looking forward to her niece’s reaction to seeing the story. “It was so special to my mom and it was so special to me, and now my niece is going to get to watch it and it’s going to be special to her, seeing her aunt in it,” she said. Riley will be playing Adaperle, the Good Witch of the North in the production. As for her first experience with The Wiz it was all about the dance. “All I remember is trying to do the ‘Ease on Down the Road’ dance.”
Despite the modernization of the tale, now set in 2015 and including the technology and music styles we have today, the strong theme of the original story remains. “It’s a coming of age story, but it’s also about finding your place in your heart and what home means to you and everybody can kind of relate to that,” said Riley.
The pressure of performing the show live and only once is still on their minds though, Blige says it’ll all be alright in the end. “By the third it’ll just be happening and you’ll get to feel more a part of it because we’re all doing it together.”
You an catch The Wiz Live! on NBC on Dec 3.