What’s in your Christmas stocking? THE WIZ LIVE, DVD release
Looking for the perfect holiday stocking stuffer? Might I suggest you ease on down the road to your local retailer for NBC’s musical television production of The Wiz Live! Following a successful television debut to a record number of viewers the DVD release hits streets December 22.
Directed by TONY Award Winner Kenny Leon (A Raisin in the Sun), he along with producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron assembled a slate of world-class performers and recording artists including Queen Latifah (Chicago), Mary J. Blige (Empire), Ne-Yo (Red Tails), and David Alan Grier (In Living Color) to star in The Wiz Live!
Staying true to the groundbreaking Broadway show that put a vivid urban spin on the land of Oz, this fresh new trip down the yellow brick road also stars Common (Being Charlie), Elijah Kelley (Hairspray), Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black), Amber Riley (Glee), Stephanie Mills (The Love Boat), and newcomer Shanice Williams as Dorothy.
The DVD includes the NBC special, The Making of The Wiz Live, featuring the behind-the-scenes story of producing this live television event!
Winner of seven Tony Awards® including Best Musical, the original 1975 hit Broadway production of The Wiz became a cultural touchstone that also spawned the classic film starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.
I spoke with Kenny Leon about The Wiz Live and what lies ahead–
Sandra Varner/Talk2SV: By comparison, when we look at the original black and white television version (created in 1939), next to the brilliant color presentation you’ve directed on stage, what was your vision; what were you most committed to—paying homage or doing something new?
Kenny Leon: It started from the beginning; we had great producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron
(Hairspray, Chicago) allowed us to create this production the way that we thought it should be. They gave us the resources to get it done. We had Fatima Robinson who has worked with nearly every pop artist in the world, particularly African Americans. To fully collaborate with her I was interested in her vision as well. Yes, I know how to tell stories–I’ve done operas, film and television but I was interested in the collaboration.
Of course, I wanted to respect the past but I also wanted to introduce things from the present into this production. In my mind was the thought, what happens if you ran 1975 into the year 2020? You come up with a place called “Now.” Now is also a perfect place where the future runs into the past.
I think that sometimes as artists, specifically African American artists, we don’t take enough responsibility into moving our art form forward. I think the way to do that is to look at the past but look at it with present day eyes. I wasn’t interested so much in recreating what was done in the past rather I had every intention of respecting what was done in the past.
Along the way, working in this business, I’ve met people like Sidney Poitier and I’ve worked with (the late) Ruby Dee and Ozzie Davis; they were
around when I did my first Raisin in the Sun on Broadway. They would have been present when I did Raisin in the Sun last year. I’m always looking at those artists that made it possible to do what we do. The only way we can move the artistry forward is to put fresh eyes on it with every intention of not changing it but respecting it and moving it (the artistry) into the next century.
I’ve always been about collaboration. That’s why we cast The Wiz Live with people who have never done Broadway and we have Broadway talent as well–David Alan Grier is a comedic genius. As the director, my job is to get everybody on the same page. How do I get Queen Latifah on the same page with Mary J. Blige? How do I make each one of them feel comfortable in the story we’re telling? How do I get all of us in the same world? I think we did a pretty good job of doing that.
Talk2SV: One of my favorite songs from The Wiz is “Believe.” I’m always curious about somebody like you whose star continues to ascend. Have most if not all of your dreams come true?
Leon: Well, I want to keep having opportunities to work and become the best director that I can be. The only thing I haven’t had happen is the opportunity to direct a full feature length film. The films I’ve directed were shot in 20 to 21 days. I’ve done five movies for television; I’ve done episodic television, I’ve done Broadway, I’ve done pop. I want to see what it feels like to shoot a film in 50 days, to have a major budget, to create big art…that’s one of the things I look forward to doing.
Talk2SV: We’re having this conversation a few days before Christmas? What will your Christmas look like?
Leon: Christmas for me will include plenty of rest; hopefully I can get in some exercise, do some eating and
some sleeping. The following Monday, I start rehearsal for an off Broadway show, Smart People, written by Lydia Diamond (Stick Fly). We have great artists working on it: Mahershala Ali from House of Cards, Joshua Jackson from The Affair and Tessa Thompson from Creed. This new play is about sex and race in America–I’m so looking forward to it.
Talk2SV: Oh, so am I! When does it open?
Leon: It opens January 25 (at 2nd Stage Theatre, http://2st.com/shows/current-production/smart-people)