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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Wiz Live! is a telecast of the Broadway musical The Wiz, in celebration of the show's 40th anniversary. The likes of Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, and David Alan Grier surround newcomer Shanice Williams, who plays Dorothy in this adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. The story is excellent for families, with an impressive soundtrack, stunning costumes, and some clear themes about friendship, love, and what defines a family. Those who have seen The Wizard of Oz will enjoy talking about the similarities and differences between the original and this story. Very young kids might have some questions about some of the visual effects that let Dorothy fly through the eye of a tornado, for instance, but actual scares are very minimal.
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What's the story?
THE WIZ LIVE is a televised stage production of the Broadway musical The Wiz, an all-African-American adaptation of L. Frank Baum's classic tale The Wizard of Oz. Shanice Williams stars as Dorothy, a teen who's reluctantly living on her aunt's farm after her parents' death. When a tornado sweeps her away to the magical land of Oz, Dorothy is desperate to get home and sets off down the Yellow Brick Road to ask the Wiz (Queen Latifah) to help her do just that. Along the way, she meets new friends -- the Cowardly Lion (David Alan Grier), the Tin Man (Ne-Yo), and Scarecrow (Elijah Kelley) -- each of whom hopes for help from the magical Wiz as well. But with the coveted silver slippers on her feet, she's a target for the less savory residents of Oz as well, including the notorious Evillene (Mary J. Blige).
Is it any good?
Visually stunning and musically masterful, this live production truly is a joy to behold, bringing the look and feel of a full-scale Broadway show right into your living room. For a newcomer, Williams (who earned the starring role through an open casting call) does an impressive job holding her own among her Hollywood-honed cast. Even so, each musical scene feels like more of a showstopper than the previous one, with Blige, Latifah, Amber Riley, and Stephanie Mills -- The Wiz's original Dorothy from the show's 1975 debut, stepping in here to play Auntie Em -- commanding the stage with particularly incredible vocals.
The Wiz Live! is a fantastic introduction to the pageantry and creative interpretation of stage entertainment, and the few minor production hiccups only reinforce its authenticity as a live performance. The story offers a different spin on the familiar tale, and once you get past the fact that it's trampling on the classic (this might be harder for some than others), you'll thoroughly enjoy the story's humor, the elaborate costumes and makeup, and the standout individual performances.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the difference between The Wizard of Oz and The Wiz. How does the music compare? The costumes? The humor? When it comes to classics, do you have a hard time accepting different adaptations, or do you generally like them?
What are the pros and cons of a live performance? Did you notice any production problems or timing stumbles? How does the fact that it's live make the show's success that much more impressive?
Kids: Are you drawn to the theater or other performance arts? Do you think that even actors and actresses of this caliber get nervous before a show? Why is it sometimes difficult to stand up in front of a crowd and perform?
- On DVD or streaming: December 22, 2015
- Cast: David Alan Grier, Queen Latifah, Shanice Williams, Mary J. Blige
- Director: Kenny Leon
- Studio: Universal Studios
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Book Characters, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, Music and Sing-Along
- Character Strengths: Courage, Gratitude, Humility, Teamwork
- Run time: 121 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
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