Thursday, December 3, 2015

Noel MacNeal and NBC's THE WIZ LIVE on Tonight at 8!

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

And Kenny also reminds us of something I'll
always carry with me: “Greatness has no excuses.”

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!


  1. A Wrinkle In Time inspired me. Do you remember Madeleine L'Engle speaking at our graduation...

  2. Oh, how exciting! I've been looking forward to watching "The Wiz" and now I have an even better reason for tuning in!
    I remember watching Mary Martin in "Peter Pan" when I was growing up and, of course, Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz."
    When I was in college I had the opportunity to see quite a few shows on Broadway. Musicals that I particularly remember seeing include "The Fantasticks," "Godspell," "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown . . . I saw Cyd Charisse in a regional theatre production of "Never on Sunday" -- so wonderful.

  3. I've always enjoyed musicals. Sound of Music is one of my favorites as is Mary Poppins (stage version as well as the movie for both, and I know the big difference.) I've started seeing some of the ones I've heard of but never seen before in the last couple of years thanks to a local theater I've found that I completely love.

    But I have never seen The Wiz. I plan to change that with this production, and I'm really looking forward to it. Probably won't watch it until this weekend since I hope to be out playing ultimate Frisbee tomorrow night. It'll be fun knowing I "know" someone behind the scenes.

  4. How amazing, Noel. Thanks for sharing in the inside story with us. Ya gotta love that high tech gizmo your friend is holding - taped to a cardboard box! I haven't seen the Wiz yet, either - yet.

  5. We're having a viewing party tonight with lots of Kiddo's friends and, of course, green food! I'm making "The Wiz" cocktail for the grownups: equal parts green Chartreuse, Maraschino, lime juice, and gin. Recipe is from Joe Craddock, 1936. Also limeade!

  6. The Wizard of Oz, without a doubt. It was, gasp, IN COLOR! Oh, that Wicked Witch and her flying monkeys! We watched it as a family every year for years when I was growing up.

  7. I cannot wait to see this. How wonderful to have Noel with us this morning to hear his insider's perspective. Thank you, Noel!

  8. Thank you Noel and Susan, we love having a star in our family! (Besides the literary ones, of course.) I had some very minor parts in high school musicals, those are the ones I will never forget--THE SOUND OF MUSIC, CAMELOT--probably my favorites forever. We'll look forward to watching tonight!

  9. We don't have the space to discuss the musicals that have influenced my life. That would be a very long list. Anyone who follows the BOLO Books Facebook page knows that I am constantly in NYC seeing shows and posting comments.

    I will say that I lived in San Diego for about 7 years and while we were there, the La Jolla Playhouse (a major regional theater) did a production of The Wiz that really should have made a transfer to Broadway. They covered the stage in television screens and really made the show accessible to modern audiences. I am hoping that tonight's production will also manage to bridge that gap - as The Wiz is a dated piece of theater, but still deserves to be celebrated and brought to the masses once again.

    I'll be watching and wishing I had a green cocktail!

  10. This is so cool! First we get to see Noel in the parade, and now as a giant head. Do we live right, or what? :-) Seriously, though, it is amazing to get to know the behind-the-scenes stuff like this. Thank you for sharing it.

    I've been seeing the promos for The Wiz, and stressing over missing it tonight because we're having dinner out. Then I remembered that we have a digital doohickey and I can save it to watch! I've only used it one other time, so fingers crossed that I can figure out how to work the thing.

    Joan, did you see Peter Pan the first time it aired on TV? Because it was also a live production. I remember that, very clearly, and the difference of the sound from taped or filmed ones. My mother actually let me stay up to watch it, which in itself was a minor miracle.

  11. Yes, Karen, we did see Peter Pan when it was first televised . . . it was amazing.

  12. Thanks, guys! BTW, Noel's working on his first novel, a MYSTERY set behind-the-scenes of a certain children's television show....

  13. AMazing amazing amazing--I have goose bumps!

    As a kid? All the Fred Astaire Ginger Rogers musicals in the movies. West Side Story, certainly. And as I got older, A Chorus Line, no question. In the 1970s, I played that record nonstop for months.

    And as an adult? Wicked. I have to tell you Defying Gravity is my theme song.

    But I am SO excited about tonight! Noel, you'll be in the midst of your role--but thousands of Reds will be cheering and applauding!

    And your MYSTERY! What a wonderful idea.


  14. Yes, the real Peter Pan, wow! SO fabulous.

  15. I couldn't be out here (at Grumman Studios near Bethpage L.I.) without the CONSTANT love and support from Susan (and the Kiddo). There is so much camaraderie and appreciation for being given this opportunity, from every member of the cast right up to Kenny Leon himself. It's going to be historic, people!

  16. Go Noel! I'm so looking forward to watching tonight. I adore all musicals, but the first movie musical I saw was the Wizard of Oz. Didn't go too well. The tornado scared me. The witch scared me. And I had to be carried out screaming when I saw the giant head!

  17. I saw "Peter Pan" at Vassar College when I was young enough to BELIEVE. The production was outdoors, and I still remember the magic.

    My first Broadway play was "Camelot" for my 16th birthday! Since then I have seen many, many productions of musicals -- my children's shows, community theater, etc. Most recently I saw my brother-in-law in "South Pacific."

    Very excited about this production of "The Wiz" -- my foster son was the star of this show as a senior at his high school, Duke Ellington in DC. He is involved somehow in tonight's play -- he lives in NYC now, a graduate of AMDA. Noel, his name is Keith McCormick.

    Thank you for sharing this!

  18. I live in NYC and I try to take advantage of all musicals that are on Broadway. I remember the first time I saw The Wiz on Broadway with Stephanie Mills and OMG..I was truly amazed with the power of her voice and stage presence. I wanted to be on that stage with her singing "Home."

    I've been waiting to see this production and I'm going to be watching singing all the songs and I hear there's one new song and it sounds great.

    Kudos to your husband Susan. I'll have to find something green to drink.

    Dru Ann

  19. I haven't seen The Wiz and have been looking forward to tonight's production for weeks. Now I want green food and green cocktails:-) Let's see. I have some Midori. Suggestions, Susan?

    Knowing Noel was Big Bird in the Macy's parade make that extra-special, so very excited to be able to say tonight that I have a connection to the Giant Head:-)

    And I love that we'll all be watching together.

    Childhood musical? The Wizard of Oz, of course.

  20. I don't think I've ever seen The Wiz. I should set the DVR for tonight (I'll be at The Boy's basketball game).

    I loved watching all those dance musicals - Gene Kelley, Fred Astaire. Still find them mesmerizing.

  21. I remember seeing "The Wiz" in its original Broadway production. What a collection of great performers and what a fun show.

    The musical that had the greatest impact on my life? Easy. "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," in a production at the Little Theatre of Alexandria (VA). I was in that production and one of my fellow actors introduced me to the woman who would become my wife. We're at 43 years and counting. Now that's a show with staying power!

  22. You had me at "Giant Head," Susan. Have just set DVR to record.

    The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music were the two musicals that were staples throughout my childhood, but I don't recall either one having much of an impact. I probably was in the backyard reading!

    Congrats to your hubby, Neal: what a challenge and what fun it'll be to operate Queen Latifah's Giant Head.


  23. Weeeeee're off to choose the winners!


    Laura DiSilverio's secret choosing method has selected:

    THE NEW READAHOLICS BOOK TO Pat D. for her "Melrose gives Aunt Agatha chewy candy to shut her up" comment.

    The T-Shirt to: Libby for what Sherlock gives Russell.

    Email your address to Hank at h ryan at whdh dot com and I will send your info to Laura!


  24. Peter Pan with Mary Martin was the first I saw, I think. Then it was THE MUSIC MAN, HIGH SOCIETY, SOUTH PACIFIC, OKLAHOMA, MY FAIR LADY and CAMELOT. Loved them all, and still do. Much later, A CHORUS LINE.

  25. Oh, and I should have mentioned seeing HAIR at the Aquarius Theater in Hollywood on it's first run there.

  26. Sorry I'm getting to this late. Noel we are SO DELIGHTED to have you making a bow on Jungle Red, and I can't wait to watch the show tonight.

    My parents were playwrights so I got taken to a lot of theatre, and even though we lived in Los Angeles GREAT shows came through. So I saw Ethel Merman (not Mary Martin) in Annie Get Your Gun. I think Julie Andrews might have been in the LA production of My Fair Lady -- she wasn't the big star she is now. Also Flower Drum Song and South Pacific (YES, with Mary Martin).

    When I got to NYC for college I saw Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand and Marat/Sade with Glenda Jackson and many Shakespeare productions in Central Park including Meryl Streep and Raoul Julia in The Taming of the Shrew.

    I get chills in a theatre whenever the curtain goes up.

  27. I saw the "Making of the Wiz Live" last week and can't wait to see the finished product tonight. It's a terrific musical--saw it years ago in San Francisco. I am a Broadway junkie, but as I live in California, I have to make do with SF productions. However, I do fondly remember seeing the original production of Hair, Golden Boy with Sammy Davis, Jr., Stop the World, I Want to Get Off with Anthony Newley, and Hello, Dolly with Ginger Rogers on Broadway before we moved west from Pennsylvania, and they were all magical to me. In 2008 my hubby and I took a trip to NYC and saw In the Heights, which later won the Best Musical Tony and the cast album Grammy--I played that album in my car for 2 years! Now I'm dying because I want to see Hamilton, the new musical by the brilliant creator/composer/star of In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda. I also have a very special place in my heart for the yearly Christmas-season broadcasts of the short opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors. I remember watching it on Christmas eve in wonder. The music is gorgeous!

  28. Noel, you are such a super star here with all the Reds! I'm always excited about watching a production or event that Susan has apprised us of you appearing in. Be it America's Got Talent, Big Bird, or now The Wiz, it's high entertainment and talent. Being in the MacNeal house must be like winning the Creative Bowl, and I'm happy to hear that you are writing a novel. Of course, the luckiest member of your family is Mattie, with his amazing bedroom makeover from last year. I need to remind my daughter that The Wiz is on tonight, but I might have to DVR it for the kids, as she gets them to bed rather early. It will be awesome to watch it with them later.

    Unfortunately, I grew up in a small town that wasn't near NYC or other theater towns. However, it was the golden age of movie musicals, and I usually got to watch those on television. I loved West Side Story, Carousel, Oklahoma, South Pacific, The Music Man, Camelot, My Fair Lady, and, of course, The Wizard of Oz. I still don't live near the big city venues, but I do subscribe to the Broadway Musical series at our fine arts center where I live, and I love watching the professional troupes perform musicals that I missed live.

  29. This is great! I'm one of those kids, long ago, who snuck in between acts. I can't make myself apologize. <3

  30. Hallie, Shakespeare in the Park was a favorite reason to take the bus to NYC as a kid. In Boston we had our own plays in the park, but going to New York was great adventure.

  31. Thanks for the great behind-the-scenes post, Noel. I'm excited to watch The Wiz tonight.

    And lucky you to be working with Kenny Leon! I was a huge fan when he ran the Alliance Theater in Atlanta many years ago. He's a fine talent, and I'm sure it's a mutual admiration society with the two of you.


  32. Oh, it was wonderful! I kept waiting for the Wiz's head, of course, and it was a delight -- I loved every minute and every song! Thank you, Noel!

  33. I was so excited when the Wiz's head appeared! Wonderful!