The Hollywood Reporter reports today that NBC and its perennial partnership with producing partners (that’s a lot of alliteration) Craig Zadan and Neil Meron have settled on the Tony award-winning musical The Wiz as its next live musical event. Upping the ante over past productions, The Wiz will reportedly feature spectacle from Cirque du Soleil and will head to Broadway the following spring for the 2016-2017 season. No cast announcements have been made to date.
The production, a musical retelling of the classic The Wizard of Oz starring an African-American cast, follows the recent explosion of diversity on network television including Black-ish, How to Get Away with Murder, Fresh off the Boat, Cristela, and – perhaps most importantly for this material – FOX’s smash hit musical Empire. It’s a wise selection for the network because not only does it feature popular, catchy tunes but it also is a more modern production that will undoubtedly attract a broader, younger audience – the kind advertisers crave.
Set to air on Thursday, December 3, the televised musical is the latest in the recent string of successful productions that began with Sound of Music Live! and, to a lesser extent, Peter Pan Live!. Zadan and Meron, who recently announced that they will not return to produce the 2016 Oscar telecast, and NBC aren’t pulling any punches with this elaborate production: Tony award-winner Kenny Leon (A Raisin in the Sun) will direct the production with Harvey Fierstein (Kinky Boots, Newsies) providing new material to accompany the original book by William F. Brown.
The Wiz originally premiered on Broadway in 1975, won 7 Tony Awards, and ran for four years. Its 1978 film version was directed by Sidney Lumet and famously starred Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor, and Lena Horne. It featured eye-popping, often nightmarish visuals that were countered by a soundtrack of memorable songs including “Ease On Down The Road,” “You Can’t Win,” “Brand New Day,” and “Home.” The film only grossed about half of its original budget, however, but has since become something of a cult classic among ethnic audiences.
There was some speculation as to the next featured property in NBC’s annual musical event. Zadan and Meron have previously announced options on other Broadway hits including The Music Man and A Few Good Men. No further announcements have been made indicating if or when those properties will see the small screen.