Ease On Down the Road: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About The Wiz
The 1978 musical The Wiz is one of the most beloved and treasured classic musicals of all time. Being a re-imagined version of another world-renowned classic, The Wizard of Oz, how can’t it be? Not to mention, the original film had a star-studded cast featuring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and many more pop culture icons of the decade.
A unique and refreshing take on Dorothy’s journey through Oz, The Wiz has a fun and brand-new soundtrack – though the film was an initial failure, much like the Rocky Horror Picture Show it became a cult classic. So much so, in fact, that in 2015 there was a live televised version of the musical, joining the likes of Rocky, the Sound of Music, Peter Pan and more. “Ease on down the road” with us and check out these fun facts that you (probably) didn’t know about The Wiz!
The original staging of The Wiz suffered low turnouts before and after arriving on Broadway. That is until the producers created a TV ad campaign featuring the song “Ease On Down the Road,” which attracted huge audiences. At the time, Broadway shows didn’t advertise on television. (Source)
Finishing the score took three whole years! “I’d start to work at 11:30 at night, when everyone else went to bed,” lead composer Charlie Smalls told The Los Angeles Times. The musician went on to claim that The Wiz’s signature style could be described as “sophisticated funk.” Smalls also helped to write some new songs for the movie version before dying of cardiac arrest in 1987, when he was just 43 years old. (Source)
The Broadway musical was a critical success, earning seven Tony Awards, including the award for Best Musical, Best Costume Design and Best Choreography. (Source)
The 1978 movie version was supposed to star Stephanie Mills (the original Dorothy in the Broadway production). Diana Ross was adamant that she wanted to play Dorothy in the film version, however. The original producers at Motown thought Ross was too old for the part, but Ross persuaded Universal Pictures to make the film with her in the lead. (Source)
Stephanie Mills, however, was the first person cast in the 2015 televised update (playing Auntie Em/Emily Gale). (Source)
Mills was 16 years old when she found out about The Wiz. She hadn't yet had much theatrical success, and, according to the actress, she didn't even want to audition for the show. “I had gone out for so many things and did not get them,” she told ChicagoPride.com. Eventually, Mills’s mother persuaded her to try out anyway—and “that experience ended up changing my life,” Mills said. The Wiz kicked off Mills’s career as a musician and Broadway star. For a long time thereafter, Dorothy’s solo “Home” was her signature song. (Source)
Phylicia Rashad was in the original ensemble. Long before she became TV’s Clair Huxtable, Rashad brought her talents to The Wiz, playing a Munchkin. (Source)
The Wiz marked Michael Jackson's film debut, and while most critics panned the movie, his performance was widely praised. “It’s good that the Scarecrow is the first traveling companion [Dorothy] meets,” Roger Ebert wrote. “Michael Jackson fills the role with humor and warmth.” (Source)
Legendary special effects artist Stan Winston (one of the geniuses behind The Terminator and Aliens) oversaw Jackson’s makeup. Every morning, this required four hours to put on and, sometimes, the singer wouldn’t bother removing it before going to bed after a long day’s shoot. (Source)
In the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, actor Buddy Ebsen was originally cast as the Tin Man. After 10 days of wearing aluminum powder to make his skin silver, he got incredibly sick and ended up in an iron lung, starting rumors that the role was cursed. Ne-Yo, who played the Tin Man in The Wiz Live! hasn’t been injured, he had said the costume was uncomfortable. (Source)