SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: So proud to introduce Noel MacNeal, aka "Hubby" who's puppeteering the giant head of Oz (played by Queen Latifah) in tonight's performance of NBC's THE WIZ LIVE at 8 p.m.
He's an Emmy-nominated performer, writer and director, but this production of The Wiz hits close to home. (And there's no place like it, I hear...)
NOEL MACNEAL: America’s fairytale is “The Wizard of Oz.” Written by L. Frank Baum, this tale of a girl and her three loyal friends has been adapted, and re-adapted, and re-re-readapted. Most everyone has seen the classic movie, starring Judy Garland.
But in 1975, Broadway reintroduced audiences to Oz with an all-black cast in THE WIZ! Geoffrey Holder's production was a smashing success and inspired the movie version three years later. And now, forty years later, a whole new generation is about to “ease on down the road,” with NBC's THE WIZ LIVE at 8 p.m. tonight!
My friend and colleague, Paul McGinnis and I are the puppeteers of the giant (and I mean —weighing ninety-five pounds — GIANT) head of the Wiz, who's played by actress/singer Queen Latifa. (Yes, the Wiz is a woman in this production. Also, Queen Latifah doesn't go by "Queen" or "Latifah" or even "Your Majesty" — we call her Dana.) We are beside ourselves with joy at having this opportunity — and the enormity of this production is not lost on us.
For me, I was raised in Central Harlem by my single mom (whom you may remember as the late honorary Red Miss Edna — who worked five straight days in an office and then weekends at an answering service to send me to private schools). She encouraged my imagination and creativity and a career in the arts.
Growing up in the 1970s, the “blaxploitation” movies I saw highlighted drugs, gunfire, and violence. But the original Broadway production, and then the movie of THE WIZ, was inspirational to me and my generation of young Black people. And our director of the new WIZ, the Tony Award-winning Kenny Leon (RAISIN IN THE SUN, etc.), felt it when he was growing up, too.
Part of Kenny’s meetings with the cast is to remind us to appreciate and respect those who came before us — such as Sydney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and Stephanie Mills (who was the original Dorothy and returns as Aunt Em in tonight's NBC production). The man is inspirational and one thing he always says to the cast is: “I don’t believe ‘practice makes perfect’ — I believe ‘better practice make perfect.’ ”
And he’s right. This ensemble of performers has been working over two solid months on this one evening of theater. The star power of this will draw huge ratings ('cause folks who know Stephanie Mills might not know Queen Latifah, who’s the Wiz — and those folks may not know Ne-Yo, who's the Tin Man — but their kids will!).
There are even performers from Cirque Du Soleil contributing this historic production. All these worlds—theater, film, TV, hip-hop, modern dance, circus — are combining, rehearsing, collaborating, and striving to create something special to inspire the next generation out there
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Thanks Noel for taking time out of your crazy rehearsal schedule to write this! Break a leg (a rod?) tonight!
Reds and lovely readers, what musicals do you remember growing up? (The one that probably made the biggest impact on me and my life was 1992's THE SECRET GARDEN, based on the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel.)
Which ones inspired you?
Please tell us in the comments!