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NBC is upping its live musical game.
NBC’s The Wiz, set for Thursday, Dec. 3, will again be executive produced by Sound of Music and Peter Pan duo Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, with Tony-winning director Kenny Leon attached to direct both the live event as well as the Broadway revival in 2016-17. Tony winner and Broadway icon Harvey Fierstein will contribute new material to the original book by William F. Brown and work alongside Zadan, Meron and Leon. Leon won a 2014 Tony Award for directing A Raisin in the Sun, and earned a nomination for Fences. Fierstein, as a writer, won Tonys for La Cage Aux Folles and Torch Song Trilogy. He’s also written books for musical hits including Kinky Boots and Newsies. As an actor, he’s won Tonys for best actor in a musical (Hairspray) and best actor in a play (Torch Song).
“We love this yearly tradition and we’re more excited than ever to not only bring another Broadway musical to America’s living rooms, but also see it land on Broadway as well,” NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt said. “It’s a natural next step for our live musical events, and we’re so pleased to be in business with this award-winning creative team and Scott Zeiger, president and managing director of Cirque du Soleil’s new theatrical division. Cirque’s incredible imagination will help bring the fantasy world of Oz vividly to life and give this great show a modern spin on the age-old story we all love.”
Zadan and Meron will reunite with Leon, with whom they worked on Steel Magnolias and A Raisin in the Sun. Universal Television will produce. Casting for both the NBC telecast and Cirque’s Broadway production will be announced at a later date.
The Wiz is adapted from L. Frank Baum‘s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, with a book by Brown and music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls. The production opened on Broadway in 1975 at the Majestic Theatre and won seven Tonys, including best musical. It ran for four years.
The Wiz is a retelling of Oz in an African-American/multicultural context. It was adapted as a film in 1978 starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Lena Horne and Richard Pryor. It centers on Dorothy, a young woman from Kansas, who is swept up in a tornado and relocated to a fantasy world inhabited by munchkins, good and bad witches, and flying monkeys. She eventually takes a path down a yellow brick road to find a wizard who can help her go home. Along the way, she meets a scarecrow, tin man and cowardly lion, who all learn to help one another.
For NBC, The Wiz combines two of TV’s biggest trends: live programming and the growing appetite for diversity — both in terms of casting and programming that best reflect society today. It comes as networks continue to look to live programming like sporting events and awards shows in a bid to break through the clutter in a crowded DVR landscape. In terms of diversity, the success of Fox’s hip-hop drama Empire and other scripted entries including Black-ish as well as Fresh Off the Boat, Cristela, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder have prompted a crush of diverse castings again this pilot season.
The Wiz was one of two productions NBC had been eyeing (alongside A Few Good Men and Music Man). Greenblatt confirmed in January that he had optioned both properties.
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