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NBC conducted a nationwide, open casting call for the part, searching for an African-American woman between 18 and 27 years old with an extraordinary voice who’s both mature and has a youthful energy. Those who auditioned had to be prepared to sing “Home,” “Ease on Down the Road” and “Be a Lion” from the original Broadway production.
Today‘s announcement included video of the 18-year-old Williams auditioning for the role, one of hundreds of applicants, and being told she got the part, shortly after which she called her mom and told her the good news. The New Jersey native then appeared live on Today, where she was tearing up over her new gig.
The Wiz will be Williams’ first TV role. She has five years of musical training including extensive dance and piano and co-starred in several local productions, including West Side Story; You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown; 42nd Street; Seussical and Pippin. Last year she was nominated for best leading actress in a musical at the Paper Mill Playhouse’s annual Rising Star Awards.
Queen Latifah will portray the Wiz in the live production, with Mary J. Blige playing Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West. David Alan Grier has landed the role of the Cowardly Lion, it was announced on Tuesday. Stephanie Mills, who starred as Dorothy in the original Broadway production of The Wiz, is taking on the role of Aunt Em for the NBC rendition.
The Wiz, which is set to air on Thursday, Dec. 3, is NBC’s latest live musical production, following the Sound of Music and Peter Pan. The Wiz will be executive produced by Sound of Music and Peter Pan duo Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. Tony-winning director Kenny Leon will serve as stage director with Matthew Diamond as TV director. Harvey Fierstein will contribute new written material to the original book by William F. Brown.
The African-American/multicultural retelling of The Wizard of Oz opened on Broadway in 1975 and won seven Tonys, including best musical. It ran for four years. The musical was turned into a film in 1978, starring Diana Ross (as Dorothy), Michael Jackson, Lena Horne and Richard Pryor.
Watch video of Williams’ audition and her learning she got the part as well as her Today appearance below.
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