"Who wouldn't want to do this?" Mary J. Blige asks. After almost 25 years in the music business, nine Grammy Awards and numerous multi-platinum albums, she's taking on one of the most iconic musicals in Broadway history and in African-American popular culture, The Wiz.
"It's always been something that we dreamed of being a part of," she says of the musical's importance in the African-American community. "We all wanted to be standing next to Michael Jackson as Dorothy or even playing Evillene or just being Auntie Em! We just always wanted to be a part of it, and it's something we [now] get to share with generations — new generations that probably don't even know anything about The Wiz. We get to share real music and real songs, and we get to show them what it is that we grew up on and inspire them to want to do it as well."
Though she's not getting greenified like the witches do on Broadway, Blige will star as Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West, when the musical co-starring Queen Latifah, Ne-Yo, David Alan Grier, Common and newcomer Shanice Williams is broadcast live on NBC across the country Dec. 3. Lucky for Blige, "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News" is her favorite song.
"I'm going to keep it classic and keep it close to what it is, but I'm going to definitely bring some 'Mary J. Blige' to the song — and some 'Mary J. Blige' attitude to Evillene," she says. "I love the song, so I'll be able to really turn it into something that's me, but I don't want to take it so far away from what I love so much about the song because I think so many people love the same things that I love." The music icon is known to bring a bit of "Blige" to anything she has a hand in. She's duetted with artists ranging from rockers like U2 to pop sensations such as Sam Smith and Taylor Swift. Exposing her hip-hop sensibilities to the masses is something Blige has been doing for decades, and she's thrilled to hear Lin-Manuel Miranda is doing the same on Broadway with Hamilton.
"Hip-hop is something that, when we were growing up, our parents were like, 'Turn that mess off!' Now, it's as big as rock 'n' roll, and the new generation is loving it," says Blige. "To have the new generation come to a Broadway show and experience hip-hop, it's something that we never even thought… I never even thought hip-hop would make it this far, but it did. It made it as far as it did, and it's a beautiful thing to have people experience it and to see how it has grown to the point where it's on Broadway."
As for her own music, "I definitely want to see the Mary J. Blige story — or just one of the album cycles — on Broadway," she says. With 11 studio albums (plus a holiday record and a handful of musical compilations), "to just have one of those albums, turns or times on Broadway would be crazy."
And, quite the story she has. Blige's father left the family when she was young, she dropped out of high school at 17 and turned to alcohol, drugs and partying. But music entrepreneur Sean "P. Diddy" Combs helped her hit the big time, and since then her music has inspired the masses.
"What keeps me inspired is just doing what I love — waking up to do what I love. Waking up to see what my life is going to be today or what's going to happen to me today," she shares. "My life is an inspiration because from one day to the next, you don't know what's going to happen, so I'm just happy that I'm here right now! And, I'm telling the story, and I'm living my life, and I'm excited when I wake up in the morning to see what's going to happen today. And, I look forward to something great happening. My family is an inspiration, God is an inspiration, life and trials are inspirations — just coming through those trials and living to see the good times is very inspiring."
Still, after years of live performance in concerts (and a brush with musical theatre in the "Rock of Ages" film), nerves don't dwindle.
Pressure? "There's too much pressure," she admits. "This is NBC live. This is not taped, so I will have to be on my A, A, A, A game, and I will have to study… I have to be the witch, for real!"
And, if she's free when The Wiz comes back to Broadway, "I would 100 percent consider it!"
(Playbill.com features manager Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)