1. The original Broadway production was almost a total disaster.
The Wiz is now considered a classic of 1970s Broadway, but it very nearly shuttered before it even got to the Great White Way. Producer Ken Harper, unhappy with the show's out-of-town tryout in Baltimore, replaced the original director and some of the cast; original Scarecrow Stu Gilliam was replaced with a then-18 year old Hinton Battle, while Butterfly McQueen's performance as the Queen of the Field Mice was removed from the show completely, though she stayed on as a standby for Addaperle. Even with some new cast and songs, mixed to negative critical response following the Broadway opening had many thinking the show wouldn't make it past its opening weekend. Nevertheless, the show made it past mediocre notices and became a hit with audiences, lasting four years and 1,672 performances. It has been speculated that a big reason the production was able to catch on with audiences was its ambitious television advertising campaign, which featured spots of the cast energetically dancing and singing "Ease On Down the Road," a tune that went on to enjoy mainstream success on the pop charts apart from the Broadway show.
2. Original Dorothy, Stephanie Mills, was just 17 when she opened The Wiz on Broadway.
Stephanie Mills rose to prominence when she created the role of Dorothy in The Wiz; the character's finale ballad "Home" remains her signature tune. Surprisingly, she was just 17 when the show opened in January 1975. She followed her success in The Wiz with a recording career, though she continued to perform in musicals as well. She returned to the role of Dorothy in 1984 and 1997 revivals, and created the dual role of Eve and Mama Noah in Stephen Schwartz's Children of Eden at the Paper Mill Playhouse. She will again return to The Wiz for NBC's live production where she will play the role of Aunt Em.
3. Original Glinda, Dee Dee Bridgewater, won a Tony Award for about five minutes of stage time.
Joining the ranks of Marilyn Cooper in Woman of the Year and both Marian Mercer and Katie Finneran in Promises, Promises, Dee Dee Bridgewater holds the distinction of winning a Tony Award for an extremely brief performance. Her character of Glinda didn't appear onstage until the very end of the story; she sang a short entrance song ("A Rested Body is a Rested Mind"), had a brief scene, and then sang a reprise of the show's emotional anthem "Believe In Yourself." When all was said and done, she was on stage for less than six minutes.
4. Michael Jackson's song from the movie adaptation, "You Can't Win," was cut from the stage version.
In the stage version of The Wiz, the Scarecrow sings "I Was Born On the Day Before Yesterday." When Michael Jackson was cast in the role for the 1978 movie adaptation, it was decided to give him a song that better suited his particular vocal style, "You Can't Win." The "new" song, however, was not written for the movie; it had been use in the original stage production and cut out of town, though it was in a different part of the story. On stage, the Winkies sang it to Dorothy about how hopeless any efforts to defeat Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West, would be.
5. Over 40 years and countless productions, The Wiz has featured many prominent performers, both before and after they achieved major fame.
Phylicia Rashad (then Phylicia Ayers-Allen) appeared in the original Broadway company as a Munchkin and a Field Mouse, while also understudying the role of Glinda. Butterfly McQueen was a standby for Addaperle, and Ken Page was a replacement Lion. Outside of Broadway, productions of The Wiz have featured Jasmine Guy, David Alan Grier, Lilias White, Ashanti, Tichina Arnold, James Monroe Iglehart, LaChanze, Lynn Thigpen, Michael James Leslie, Nikki M. James and Joshua Henry to name but a few. Many stars from the original cast, including Stephanie Mills, Tiger Haynes, Ted Ross, Hinton Battle, Clarice Taylor, Mabel King, André De Shields and Dee Dee Bridgewater, went on to continued success as both performers and recording artists as well.
(Logan Culwell is a musical theatre historian, Playbill's manager of research and curator of Playbill Vault. Please visit LoganCulwell.com.)
This article has been updated to clarify the cast during the original production's out of town try-out in Baltimore.