Williams' casting was announced on "The Today Show" Aug. 5. Producers chose an 18-year-old newcomer from New Jersey.
Williams was selected from hundreds of young aspirants who auditioned across the U.S. She has five years of musical training that also includes extensive dance and piano. Williams has co-starred in several local productions, including West Side Story; You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown; 42nd Street; Seussical and Pippin. In 2014 Williams was nominated for best leading actress in a musical at the Paper Mill Playhouse’s annual Rising Star Awards.
She will appear in the TV version with Mills, who played Dorothy in the original production, who will play Auntie Em in the TV adaptation. Also announced for the live television event are Latifah, who starred in the Oscar-winning film of "Chicago" and the screen return of "Hairspray," as The Wiz, with Blige to play Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West and Grier to play The Cowardly Lion.
US Weekly magazine previously reported that Beyoncé may be in talks to play Glinda the Good Witch. No further details were reported. Beyoncé previously worked with Wiz choreographer Fatima Robinson on the film adaptation of Dreamgirls. Robinson also choreographed Blige's "Family Affair" video. William F. Brown wrote the book for the soulful contemporary retelling of L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." The Wiz also features music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls. The original 1974 production, directed by Geoffrey Holder and choreographed by George Faison, won seven Tony Awards including Best Musical. The premiere Broadway company featured Hinton Battle, Tiger Haynes, Stephanie Mills, Ted Ross, Dee Dee Bridgewater, André De Shields and Mabel King. Diana Ross and Michael Jackson starred in the film version.
The musical, according to NBC, is described as such: "Dorothy, a young woman from Kansas, is swept up in a tornado and relocated to a fantasy world that is inhabited by munchkins, good and bad witches, and, of course, flying monkeys. She eventually takes a path down a yellow brick road to find a wizard who can help her go home and along the way meets a scarecrow, tin man and cowardly lion, who all learn to help one another."
This morning Playbill.com incorrectly reported that Grammy-nominated R&B songwriter Shanice had been cast as Dorothy. We deeply regret the error.