Beyoncé, Audra McDonald and Eddie Murphy: Dream-Casting The Wiz Live!

News   Beyoncé, Audra McDonald and Eddie Murphy: Dream-Casting The Wiz Live!
 
Craig Zadan and Neil Meron have announced that their next live musical for NBC television will be The Wiz. With eight or so months to go until the telecast, let the hypothetical dream casting begin!

The Wiz is a hilariously fun show with a fantastic score. It's also filled with opportunities for some truly exciting performances. Because I couldn't be satisfied with only one choice, I decided to give two picks per role — a Broadway star and a star from outside the world of Broadway.

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And if Zadan and/or Meron are reading this, please know I will not be upset if you use any or all of these ideas. After all, it'd be for the greater good.

Stephanie Mills
Stephanie Mills

Aunt Em
Aunt Em isn't a huge role; she's in the first scene and then makes a brief appearance at the end. She does, however, get the opening number ("The Feeling We Once Had"), which has lots of room for an show-stopping vocal performance to start the broadcast off with a bang.

Broadway Star
When it comes to The Wiz, you can't get much better than original Dorothy Stephanie Mills. Only 15 years old when she was cast, Mills was so good in the role that she launched an R&B recording career that has continued for over 30 years. Seeing her come back to the show would be a true thrill for me and my fellow Wiz super-fans.

Non-Broadway Star
The only other name that jumped to my mind when thinking about this role was Aretha Franklin. She's got an iconic voice — one of the best ever — and having her sing the opening song would start the evening off with some major star wattage. "The Feeling We Once Had" is just the kind of passionate and soulful song that Franklin does best. It has lots of room for the kind of vocal fireworks that have made Franklin the singular recording star she is.

Charl Brown
Charl Brown

The Scarecrow
I'm not sure if they'll go with the Scarecrow's song from the stage version ("I Was Born on the Day Before Yesterday") or the song that replaced it for the film adaptation ("You Can't Win"), but either way, the Scarecrow requires a high-energy and lovable performer with a dynamic voice. Given that Michael Jackson played the role in the film adaptation, whoever takes this role will have big shoes to fill!

Broadway Star
Charl Brown made a splash and earned a Tony nomination for his performance as Smokey Robinson in Motown. He's got the moves, he's got the voice, he's got the personality. I think Charl would be a welcome addition to The Wiz.

Non-Broadway Star
Recording star Jason DeRulo could be a really exciting choice for the Scarecrow. He's super hot right now; it was recently announced he would be a judge on the upcoming season of "So You Think You Can Dance," and his fifth album "Want to Want Me" is due out later this year. Combine that with his silky-smooth voice and Michael-Jackson-esque moonwalking skills and you have a fantastic candidate for the Scarecrow!

Michael McElroy
Michael McElroy

The Tinman
In his search for a heart, The Wiz's Tinman gets one of the more emotional ballads of the score, "What Would I Do If I Could Feel." His role certainly has lots of room for comedy (the hilarious Nipsey Russell portrayed him in the film adaptation), but it also calls for a certain suave-ness.

Broadway Star
Michael McElroy hasn't had a major Broadway role since he played Jim in the 2003 Deaf West revival of Big River, and it's high time we got him back. One listen to his "I'll Cover You (Reprise)" and you'll get goosebumps just imagining his "If I Could Feel." His powerful voice and rich tone could well lead to a romantic and memorable Tinman.

Non-Broadway Star
Usher is yet another super-recognizable name that could lead to huge ratings for this broadcast, and he could also really impress with his performance in the role. He's known for his catalogue of passionate songs about romance, so playing a man in search of a heart seems like a natural fit. He's also not a complete stranger to Broadway; he played Billy Flynn in Chicago for a little over a month in 2006!

Tituss Burgess
Tituss Burgess Photo by Jennifer Leigh Mann

The Lion
Whereas the Scarecrow seems to be the dominant of the three friends in the 1939 movie classic "The Wizard of Oz," the Lion takes this spot in The Wiz. The role, when played right, gets lots of laughs and even calls for a fair amount of physical comedy, but he gets to sing the moving duet "Be a Lion" with Dorothy as well.

Broadway Star
Titus Burgess has actually played the Lion already in the La Jolla Playhouse's 2006 production. He was fantastic in the role; he's got a stellar voice and is more than adept at handling the comedic bits as well. He's been back in the spotlight recently due to his role on Tina Fey's "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," which could easily make him a Broadway star that some non-Broadway fans would tune in for as well! Perhaps most importantly, we should all note that Burgess has ample experience playing animals, including Sebastian the crab in The Little Mermaid and a werewolf on "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."

Non-Broadway Star
As for the pop realm, CeeLo Green is a natural fit for the role of the Lion. CeeLo's most famous single is probably 2010's "F*** You" (known in some circles as "Forget You") which not only showed off his voice, but his sense of humor as well. As a former judge on "The Voice," he's no stranger to live TV, either.

Brian Stokes Mitchell
Brian Stokes Mitchell

The Wiz
And we've arrived at the all-important great-and-terrible title-role himself. Depending on how much material from the stage version they end up using, this role could really run the gamut. He begins bombastically with "So You Wanted to Meet the Wizard," but then is revealed in Act Two as more vulnerable.

Broadway Star
Brian Stokes Mitchell hasn't been on Broadway since Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Any appearance by the Tony winner would be well appreciated, and his vocal power would lend itself well to the showy Wiz.

Non-Broadway Star
Eddie Murphy's comedy chops made him a huge breakout star after appearing on "Saturday Night Live" for four years, and he has an excellent singing voice as well. He made a fantastic James "Thunder" Early in the 2006 film adaptation of Dreamgirls, so he's no stranger to musical theatre nor characters rich with panache bravado. This role is in his wheelhouse and the comedic layers he could bring to it would make it a performance to watch for sure.

LaChanze
LaChanze

Addaperle
Addaperle is the first and funniest witch we meet in Oz, and she sets Dorothy on the yellow brick road towards the Emerald City with "He's the Wiz." She's a little frazzled and doesn't always have things together, but that just leads to good comedic opportunities.

Broadway Star
LaChanze got to show more of her comedic side with last season's If/Then, and I see no reason not to explore more of that by putting her in this role. She's fantastic in every role she does (she won a Tony Award for Celie in The Color Purple) and she could easily make a fantastic Addaperle.

Non-Broadway Star
Looking outside of Broadway, the first actress who comes to my mind for this role is Wanda Sykes. Her sense of humor matches this character perfectly. And sure — we've never heard her sing and I don't expect her to put out a solo album any time soon, but it's definitely possible to get through "He's the Wiz" mostly talk-singing. What she would bring to the role comedically would be nothing short of magic.

Felicia P. Fields
Felicia P. Fields

Evillene
Evillene is the hilariously evil wicked witch of the West. She sings the rousing "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News" AND she gets to melt onstage. What could be better?

Broadway Star
Felicia P. Fields got a Tony nomination for her portrayal of the strong and stubborn Sofia in The Color Purple. She's got a great big voice and definitely knows how to play a strong woman. She could really make Evillene the kind of evil witch you love to hate.

Non-Broadway Star
Staying within the cast of The Color Purple, "American Idol" star Fantasia could also make an excellent Evillene. She would do wonders with Evillene's big gospel number vocally, and I bet she'd have a ball playing the evil witch's scenes too. She's no stranger to musical theatre, having appeared both in The Color Purple and After Midnight, so she's a natural fit to join this project.

Audra McDonald
Audra McDonald Photo by Autumn de Wilde

Glinda
In the stage version of The Wiz, Glinda only makes a brief appearance at the end of the show, but it's a memorable one. She sings the climactic reprise of "Believe In Yourself." We might even get to hear her sexy "A Rested Body is a Rested Mind," though this song was left off of the Broadway cast recording and was deleted from the film adaptation. The original Broadway Glinda, Dee Dee Bridgewater, won a Tony Award for her performance even though it timed out at less than 10 minutes of stage time, so there's a major opportunity to impress with this role.

Broadway Star
Who else? Six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald is an easy choice for this role. Who, I ask you, WOULDN'T want Audra McDonald to come down from the sky and save the day at the last moment in their own lives? Her "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" in The Sound of Music Live! was easily the most impressive part of the telecast, and her "Believe In Yourself" could easily rise to the same level.

Non-Broadway Star
Going up head to head with Audra, I had to pick another heavy hitter, and I believe I have. Beyoncé proved she had quite the acting talent in addition to the insane vocal skills that made her an internationally famous recording star when she played Deena in the 2006 film adaptation of Dreamgirls. She's a natural fit to join an all-star cast of The Wiz, and her "Believe In Yourself" would be off the charts for sure.

Nikki M. James
Nikki M. James

Dorothy
And last, but certainly not least, we have the role that made Stephanie Mills a star when she originated it on Broadway. Dorothy carries the show in many ways, and the part requires both vocal and dance prowess. She sings "Soon As I Get Home," "Be a Lion" and "Home," the emotional finale of the show.

Broadway Star
Nikki M. James is one of Broadway's best young talents. She won a 2011 Tony Award for The Book of Mormon, and then spent last season belting out "On My Own" eight shows a week in Les Misérables. She definitely has the vocal chops to tackle the role, but I actually think her wonderful acting abilities would prove her best asset here. She's played it before (alongside Tituss Burgess at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2006) so why not invite her back for another trip down the yellow brick road?

Non-Broadway Star
I might be cheating a bit with this final pick, but a big part of me would love to see this role cast with someone we don't even know yet. Back in 1975, The Wiz made original-Dorothy Stephanie Mills a star, and it could happen again! They could have national open calls or hold a YouTube contest and let the public vote. I'm envisioning a TV special leading up to the live telecast documenting the whole process, too. There's nothing more thrilling than a brand new performer breaking onto the scene with a truly phenomenal performance, and I would love if this production could offer that chance to some lucky young actress.

Whoever ends up getting cast in these roles, I think The Wiz signals a new and exciting direction for NBC's live musicals. The fact that this top-notch score will be heard on televisions across the country (to not even mention on Broadway soon afterwards) is unbelievably exciting and I can't wait to see it no matter who they cast. I will definitely be parked on my couch ready to ease on down the road along with millions of other viewers come the night The Wiz premieres!

(Logan Culwell is a musical theatre historian and manager of Playbill Vault. Please visit LoganCulwell.com.)

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