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One of the last times L. Frank Baum’s cherished Oz universe make its way to our eyeballs was in 2013 for Sam Raimi’s visual feast Oz the Great and Powerful. Our next yellow brick road trip with Dorothy and the gang will take place on NBC for the upcoming musical The Wiz Live!, the latest in a line of live musicals on the network, as adapted by Harvey Fierstein and directed by Kenny Leon.
So who will take on these roles made famous by Stephanie Mills and Hinton Battle on the stage, and by Diana Ross and Michael Jackson on the big screen? We’re rounding up the cast members as they’re announced for a list that not even the Scarecrow would need a brain to figure out. And let’s start with that most important role of all.
Dorothy – Shanice WilliamsIf you don’t know the name Shanice Williams at this point, you definitely will soon. The 18-year-old New Jersey native was chosen from hundreds of young women who auditioned for the lead role of Dorothy, and she’s got years of musical training and stage experience behind her. She co-starred in local performances of such popular musicals as Seussical, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and West Side Story, among others, and this high-profile role will hopefully put her career into a tornado that never stops turning.
The Lion – David Alan GrierA quick-witted comedy stalwart who first got his big break on the sketch series In Living Color, David Alan Grier knows no boundaries when it comes to making people laugh, and he should be excellent as the cowardly lion. He’s got stage experience, starring in Broadway productions of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Porgy and Bess (among others), the latter of which earned him nominations for both a Tony and a Grammy. He was in a revival production of The Wiz some years back, and he’ll soon be seen in the NBC comedy The Carmichael Show.
The Wiz – Queen LatifahTaking on the role of the seemingly all-powerful wizard will be the Grammy nominated Queen Latifah, who is no stranger to music and musicals. With a career that started out in hip-hop, Latifah honed her acting chops on the sitcom Living Single and solidified her talents in the 2002 musical Chicago, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. Also starring in Hairspray and Joyful Noise, Latifah actually played the role of Aunt Em in the TV movie The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz, which also starred David Alan Grief as Uncle Henry.
Aunt Em – Stephanie MillsThis won’t be the Grammy-winning R&B and gospel singer Stephanie Mills’ first trip into the world of The Wiz, as she took on the role of Dorothy back in the mid-1970s, a part she returned to for a revival in 1984. Seeing her as Aunt Em will be a treat for fans, although it might make everyone feel their age a bit too much. Mills was also in performances of Children of Eden and Funny Girl. Beyond appearances as herself on talk shows like The Mo’Nique Show and The Oprah Winfrey Show, Mills’ last trip to the small screen was for a 1985 episode of The Love Boat.
Evillene – Mary J. BligeAnother artist whose fame rose through radio hits, Mary J. Blige will be the monkey-leading antagonist in The Wiz Live! as the wicked witch Evillene. With a little Off-Broadway experience behind her, Blige has built up her acting career in the last few years with roles in musicals like Rock of Ages and Black Nativity. She was last seen belting out a tune in Season 1 of Empire.
Glinda, the Good Witch of the South – Uzo AdubaThough she broke out on the Netflix dramedy Orange is the New Black as the mentally unstable Crazy Eyes, the Emmy-nominated Uzo Aduba is no stranger to the theater. She’s been on Broadway in Coram Boy and also performed in other stage versions of Godspell and Translations of Xhosa. She’ll be playing a good witch opposite Queen Latifah’s evil one, in a role first made famous by Dee Dee Bridgewater in the original play, and then the iconic Lena Horne in the film.
Addaperle, the Good Witch of the North – Amber RileyAmber Riley first rose to fame on Glee as the diva-ish Mercedes Jones, and she’ll definitely use her performing talents in The Wiz, not to mention the fact that she’s got a recording career and was also the winner of Season 17 of Dancing with the Stars. As Addaperle, she’ll follow in the footsteps of such stars as Clarice Taylor and Juanita Flemming.
Tin Man – Ne-YoIf you’re going to follow Nipsey Russell in a role, you’d better have the talent to do it. And I’m pretty sure that R&B singer/songwriter Ne-Yo can do it, though his comedic chops haven’t exactly been showcased over the years. As a writer and producer for everyone from Celine Dion to Beyoncé – not to mention his own 6 albums – Ne-Yo knows music, and he should be able to make the Tin Man role memorable here. Listen for his stuff on Season 2 of Empire later this year.
The Gatekeeper of Oz – CommonAs a Grammy-nominated rap artist, Common knows a thing or two about music, something he showed off with John Legend in winning the Oscar for Best Original Song for Selma’s “Glory.” But apparently The Wiz producers are more interested in showing off his acting musle, as he’s been cast in the role of Oz’s gatekeeper, which is apparently a non-singing part. That’s fine, though, as his work on Hell on Wheels, Selma and more have proven he’s good for it. Now we just wonder if he’ll be singing in Suicide Squad.
The Scarecrow – Elijah KelleyFirst portrayed by Hinton Battle in the stage production, the role of the scarecrow then went to Michael Jackson in the film version, which was a magically oddball slice of pop culture. And now we’ll see what Lee Daniels’ The Butler star Elijah Kelley can do with it. He doesn’t have a ton of acting credits, though he’s got several musical films under his belt, such as Hairspray, Take the Lead and Rome & Jewel. We think he’s got the brains to do it.
Stay tuned for more casting info, and don’t forget to grab your ruby red slippers for the premiere of The Wiz Live! on NBC on Thursday, December 3, at 8 p.m. ET.
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