Dorothy ready to ‘Hit the Quan’ and ‘Nae Nae’ in ‘The Wiz Live!’
This will be The Wiz like you’ve never seen it before.
There will be acrobatic stunts courtesy of Cirque du Soleil, a new song co-written by Ne-Yo, and Dorothy will be going down the yellow brick road hitting some popular hip hop dance moves.
It’s been 40 years since the play debuted on Broadway, and this latest revival, The Wiz Live! — which airs on NBC Thursday — is set to bring Dorothy, played by 19-year-old newcomer Shanice Williams, and her unique group of friends into 2015.
“We’re hitting the Quan, we’re hitting the Nae Nae,” said choreographer Fatima Robinson, referring to the dance crazes made popular by iHeart Memphis and We Are Toonz, respectively.
“We have kind of every fun street dance that’s out there we’ve incorporated in the choreography. And it’s so much fun,” said the hip hop choreographer, who was notably behind the dance moves in Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” and Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat” videos.
Williams, who joked that she wanted to dance in high-top sneakers instead of silver heels, promised the hip dance routines would be presented respectfully.
“It’s very modern. All the steps that we do now — whip, Nae Nae, all that — in the most classiest way. Nothing ratchet,” the New Jersey native said. “It’s going to be really good. A lot of hip hop.”
There will also be six Cirque du Soleil moments, said director Kenny Leon, whose Broadway credits include directing “A Raisin in the Sun” and August Wilson’s “Fences.”
“You have singers, dancers, actors and acrobats, and I call them all my actors,” said Leon, noting Dorothy will be lifted in the air to fly away in the tornado scene. “I call that a ‘cirque moment’ even though the cirque acrobats are just doing a dance, but Dorothy actually flies. In the film you didn’t see that and in the play you didn’t see that.”
Flying creatures, referred to as “Winged Warriors,” will also soar in the production, he said.
Another addition is a new song that Leon requested to bring Dorothy and her three friends — the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man — together at the end of the first act.
Grammy Award-winning singer Ne-Yo and “Red Tails” actor Elijah Kelley — who play the Tin Man and Scarecrow, respectively — delivered on the request and co-wrote “We Got It” (along with music producer Harvey Mason Jr. and music director Stephen Oremus).
“There’s a moment in the story where the four friends realize, where the Wiz tells them that in order to get their wishes granted they have to go and kill the Wicked Witch of the West,” the “Miss Independent” singer said. “Dorothy rallies the troops and let’s them know that in order for us to make this happen, we have to work together…There was never a song that put that idea together in the original Broadway production.”
Ne-Yo also revealed that he will perform a more uptempo version of “Slide Some Oil.”
“They just gave it a little more energy than the original one,” he said. “They brought it on into 2015 a little bit.”
The Wiz Live!, which will be performed and broadcast live from the Grumman Studios in Long Island, New York, is primarily based on the Broadway musical, and not the 1978 film, which starred Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, producers said.
Stephanie Mills, who at 17 starred as Dorothy in the original Broadway musical that won seven Tony Awards and launched her career, is excited to return to the production as Aunt Em.
“What other role could I possibly be?” said Mills, who played Dorothy for four and a half seasons. “I had to be Aunt Em.”
The 58-year-old singer explained during a recent press event that she has been scared to return to the stage and almost didn’t audition for the Broadway play, but her mom made her.
“I don’t like to audition,” she said. “I don’t like the audition process. It really almost is crippling to me. I’m so super, super, duper sensitive. And I’m painfully shy. I am painfully, painfully shy so I can’t audition. I’d rather die.”
As for her relationship with Williams, Mills said she’s just been there to support the rising star and newest Dorothy.
“I’ve given her love. I told her, ‘You can’t be, I don’t want you to try to do what I did. She’s her Dorothy. She’s 2015 Dorothy. It’s hers. I did my part 40 years ago, so it’s hers. It’s hers.”
After the telecast, The Wiz is scheduled to return to Broadway for the 2016-2017 season, and while the cast hasn’t been finalized, Mills is interested.
“I would love to go to Broadway. Yes,” she said.
The star-studded cast for The Wiz Live! will also feature Queen Latifah as the Wiz, Mary J. Blige as Evilene (Wicked Witch of the West), Common as the Bouncer/Gatekeeper, David Alan Grier as the Cowardly Lion, Amber Riley as Addaperle (Good Witch of the North) and Uzo Aduba as Glinda (Good Witch of the South).
Tune in to The Wiz Live! on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.
Michael J. Feeney is an award-winning journalist, public speaker and former New York Daily News reporter. Follow him on Twitter @mfeeney