As Black musicals go it’s hard to go wrong putting Michael Jackson and Diana Ross in the same flick. But add to that Nipsey Russell and Richard Pryor and you have the makings of a classic. The Wiz, an ambitious re-imagining of The Wizard of Oz with an all Black cast, was filled with hidden messages (you peeped how Dorothy couldn’t catch a cab?) and wonderful music that has more than stood the test of time. Here are 5 Reasons we still “Ease on down the road.”
1) After talking to several people (and this is my own opinion as well), the overwhelming reason to watch The Wiz is the King Of Pop, Michael Jackson. He was perfect as The Scarecrow looking for a heart; sweet, vulnerable, a loyal friend–just as people close to Michael knew him in real life. Seeing him dance quadruple circles around Diana Ross as they “eased on down the road” induces chuckles…thinking of all that beautiful talent no longer with us induces a tear (or many).
2) The songs! I am serious when I say I still see references to the songs in The Wiz at least once or twice a week on Facebook, Twitter, or somebody’s blog. They transcend generations…my neighbor just told me her three year old daughter knows every single song in the film. “You Can’t Win”, “Home” (which you can’t help but cry on unless you’re made of stone), “Ease On Down The Road,” “He’s The Wizard,” and “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News” are all classics for the annals of history. With just the songs alone, it is a film that a family that encompasses any age can enjoy.
3) The overwhelming excess of the 70’s embodied in the film. Where to begin? It was directed by Sidney Lumet, who I’m quite certain was paid a billion dollars to be involved. The screenplay was written by Joel Schumaker (yes, of the “Batman” franchise). New songs were written by the mighty duo of Ashford and Simpson and the freaking World Trade Center used as the set for “Oz”! Costumes were designed by Oscar De La Renta and Norma Kamali (the sweatshop girls working for the evil queen could have easily stepped off today’s runway in their finery) and at any given time there were up to 135 crew members actively working on the set, not to mention hundreds and hundreds of extras. For all the money that was obviously a blank check budget for the film, it has at the very least endured as a very, very solid Black film classic that everyone knows and loves.
4) The performances of much loved icons in our community. Yes, Diana was unarguably waaaay too old for the role of 24-year-old Dorothy. But once you get past that, you can see that she really tried to do the role justice. Michael Jackson–’nuff said. Lena Horne as Glenda The Good Witch…etheral and beautiful, a sight to behold; really, could you imagine anyone else playing that role? Nipsey Russell as The Tinman is the bridge from an older time that was full of tap-dance and soft shoe, and he is a treasure of a time capsule that helps us to remember that history, our history. Mabel King, the momma from “What’s Happening” showed us another side to her that we’ve never, ever seen with Raj or Rerun. And the carryovers from the Broadway play helped fill in the holes to help keep some of the charm and magic that made someone want to bring it to the big screen to begin with (for example Ted Ross as The Cowardly Lion). And Richard Pryor as The Wiz? Check and mate.
5) The message. In it’s unique way, The Wiz gave us a message that has been told since ancient times; everything you ever need in life is already inside of you, just waiting to be discovered. The Lion showed bravery by fighting for his friends, The Tinman showed heart by feeling sadness or sympathy for his friends, and The Scarecrow made all of the smart suggestions that propelled them forward. They were all so busy trying to get to someone that would get them all the easy answers, not for one second slowing down and realizing that what they were looking for they already had the entire time. Sound familiar?