Thursday’s staging of The Wiz Live! on NBC was a big success for the network with over 11 million viewers, strong reviews, and a huge reaction on social media. EW talked to producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron about the great reaction, taking the show to Broadway in 2016 and what their next live musical will be.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How do you guys feel this morning?
NEIL MERON: We’re feeling great. We wanted this to be a really good morning for us and we wanted to really make sure that this tradition has legs to continue and I think this morning proves that there is an audience for these live musicals. Also we wanted to honor the legacy of The Wiz which is the most important thing so to have this all work together is really gratifying.
CRAIG ZADAN: Also the social media figures are quite astonishing. Look, we learned our lessons on doing the Oscars for 3 years. We learned how to do social media and tie it into a show. I think that we used everything that we learned and we had like unbelievable support from people. Ellen was tweeting. Oprah tweeted twice. Tyler Perry.
MERON: Kerry Washington. Audra MacDonald. Just a lotta love out there for The Wiz and for live musicals.
Did you guys reach out to those people? Or where they just excited?
MERON: We reached out because we have great relationships with a lot of the talent and some just spontaneously did it. It was a combination. When you do these shows, you want there to be a groundswell of support so we wanted the buzz to get out there. We tried to have the philosophy of no stone unturned.
People often like to hate-watch these things. But the Twitter reaction this time was really positive.
MERON: I know. We were like, “Really? No hate? Love?” This is a new world.
ZADAN: We have never had that happen.
What do you attribute that to?
ZADAN: I think that people loved the cast. I think they loved the show. And I think that they were expecting to see something that they’ve seen before and they didn’t. We changed out everything. We had all these new conceptual set designs and the costumes and all that. It didn’t look like the other shows.
Who came up with the voguing Emerald City? I’m real into that.
MERON: Fatima Robinson, our brilliant choreographer, wanted the choreography to reflect what was going on now. She said that the clubs are telling her that there’s this new style of voguing coming back. So she was of the moment and Fatima just outdid herself. She knew what was going on in the streets and she put it in The Wiz!
That was my favorite moment aside from the sexy poppies.
MERON: Oh yeah. That’s the same thing. It’s all Fatima.
Did you two have a favorite moment that stood out last night?
ZADAN: I think there were things that were representative of the technique we did like the tornado. That tornado was amazing. I think that we have never used any technique like that before. It felt like you were in the tornado, and also the use of musical comedy where Fatima choreographed the dancers for the tornado, and we had flying and the digital animation … I think that was representative of something you looked at and went, “Wow. I haven’t seen that before.”
MERON: My favorite moment was “Home” because it operated on so many levels. It operated on the message of what it was all about. It just is a heart-stopping number and it was also the final star-is-born moment for Shanice. Just to see her own it and claim it and just wipe everybody else that came before her away with that moment was incredible to see. As a producer, we love to introduce new talent and that’s the most gratifying thing to just see this talent explode in terms of your instincts. Our instincts were basically proven by that performance.
ZADAN: My favorite song in the whole show and it’s always been that way since I was a kid and saw this show on Broadway is “Be a Lion.” That number just kills me. I just thought it was magnificent and it was heartbreaking and emotional. I was really proud of David and Shanice on that number. I loved that.
There’s a video of Shanice coming backstage after “Home” and everyone was cheering for her. What was that like for her?
MERON: I don’t think she knows what hit her. She’s been handling this with utmost grace with confidence, with kind of supernatural calmness that you’d think she knows she’s playing out her destiny. I don’t know where it comes from. It’s kind of remarkable.
Tell me a little about “We Got It,” the original song that Ne-You co-wrote with Elijah Kelley and Harvey Mason Jr.
ZADAN: Kenny always felt like when The Wiz tells them they have to go off and kill the witch that this was a place that was crying out for a musical number. We all sat around saying, What do we do? Then we thought, Well, we have somebody in the cast who’s one of the great songwriters, and then we went to Ne-Yo. He then brought in Elijah and Harvey Mason Jr. and they sat around, wrote the song, and they played it for us and we loved it. We felt it was a knockout and, especially last night, it played really well.
There were some updates, like Addaperle had an iPad and Oz has a sushi restaurant.
MERON: [Laughs] That’s Harvey Fierstein. That is Harvey Fierstein working with Kenny Leon in collaboration. Kenny has some expression I’ll paraphrase badly: “He’s taken 1975 and pushed it to 2020 and somewhere in the middle is now.” I think that’s what the attitude was about Harvey’s book, Fatima’s choreography, and the whole look of the show — it came out of a certain vision that Kenny had. Kenny likes to be inspired by his dreams and his dreams kind of pointed the direction of this entire production.
So you had told me that the plan would be for The Wiz to head to Broadway a year from now — is that still the plan?
MERON: Uh-huh. Very much so.
Are you starting to work on it today?
MERON: Today is all about recovering and it’s about celebrating what’s happened last night. To think about the future now, there would be a cloud thinking about anything past today and what happened last night.
ZADAN: And when we start to work on it we have to make certain decisions as does the cast. Obviously everyone in the cast has an invitation to go to Broadway. Obviously a lot of them are booked on tours and all these different projects. The question is how many of them can and want to go to Broadway and then how much time they can spare. Are they going to say “Oh yeah, I want to go to Broadway for a year”? or will somebody say, “I’ll give you six months.” We don’t know any of that. It’s just that they now have fallen in love with the roles and the piece and their director and choreographer. I think maybe if we would have asked them before we did this they would have just said and out and out no. I think a lot of them may consider strongly maybe going to Broadway with it. I think for the audience that saw this on TV and you can see your favorite people live in the theater do it, I think there might be a number of great people from our show that will do it on Broadway.
Everyone always wants to know what the next one is. Is it chosen?
MERON: No. We wanna know what the next one is gonna be. Let’s just say we’ve been having ongoing conversations with Bob Greenblatt and we’re throwing everything up in the air and discussing other titles but we haven’t really landed.