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Perched atop a spiky chariot, Mary J. Blige rolled onto a set here and began making demands. “What’s that there?” she yelled, pointing to an invisible blotch. Underlings scurried to clean up. “Worrrk!” she bellowed.
Ms. Blige, the enduring R&B star, was rehearsing her part as Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West, in “The Wiz,” the enduring musical, which NBC will broadcast live on Thursday night at 8, Eastern time. As with its live-broadcast predecessors “The Sound of Music” and “Peter Pan,” the cast is a mix of Broadway, television and film veterans, alongside music stars like Queen Latifah as the Wiz, and Ne-Yo as the Tin Man. There will be spectacle, too, in the form of Cirque du Soleil acrobats.
Unlike the audiences of the previous shows, Thursday’s viewers may get a chance to see this one again, off screen: “The Wiz” is already scheduled for a Broadway run next year, with much of the same design, costuming and choreography, including the Cirque performers. For the actors, then, it amounts to a live televised tryout.
Ms. Blige has been cramming. In a break from rehearsals last week, she talked about plumbing her “nasty, dark side” and showed off her crimson-tipped nails, which she has been growing long to feel witchy. She lobbied to play Evillene, she said, because the character’s number “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News” is one of her favorites.
“My sister and I were singing this song recently, before I even got the part, just playing around with it,” she said. “Something about that ‘no bad news’ part relates to me now as a businesswoman: I don’t want to hear it. I want you to make it happen.”
For a while, though, it looked as if a full-fledged new “Wiz” might never happen.
An urban adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Wiz” won seven Tonys after it opened in 1975, a milestone for a show with an all-black cast, and introduced the song “Home,” sung by Stephanie Mills, as a radio hit. It became a cultural touchstone, especially for African-American audiences, who grew up on the over-the-top 1978 film version starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, a pricey critical flop that went on to have a devoted following. The show is also a school theater staple.
But a 1984 Broadway revival was short-lived. And a starry Encores! concert production in 2009 at City Center that featured members of the creative team now behind “Hamilton” generated tepid reviewsthat seemed only to remind critics of the show’s flaws.
Read the full article from the New York Times here.