Newcomer Shanice Williams and 'Wiz' veteran Stephanie Mills talk to EW about the upcoming NBC production
It’s been 40 years since The Wiz premiered on Broadway, and NBC is celebrating the anniversary in a big way by televising a live broadcast of the show, aptly titled The Wiz Live!
The one-time event, airing Dec. 3., is a follow-up to the network’s previous stagings of The Sound of Music Live! and Peter Pan Live!, and features actors and singers Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Ne-Yo, and Common, plus David Alan Grier, Uzo Aduba and the Broadway production’s original Dorothy, Stephanie Mills.
For this show’s Dorothy, NBC did what The Wiz did 40 years ago — cast a complete unknown singer through an open casting call. Eighteen-year-old Shanice Williams, a New Jersey native, was chosen from thousands of girls auditioning for the coveted role.
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“It was my first audition ever — my first real one,” Williams says. “I got there like 2 hours early, but the line was so long it was ridiculous. I waited for 2 hours before I even got inside the building. I sang ‘Home’ and ‘Be a Lion,’ and then I remember them telling me that I was going to sing for [director] Kenny Leon. I was like, ‘Oh my God. I’m about to sing for Kenny Leon!’ It was amazing.”
Below, see an exclusive clip shared with EW, Essence, and People to see the two Dorothies sing “Home” together, and read on for more about their experiences with The Wiz! — both as a first-timer, and a show veteran.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How are rehearsals going so far?
STEPHANIE MILLS: We’re already in Long Island now at the Grumman Studios, so we’ve elevated to seeing our sets. We’re in full costume and it’s going really well.
SHANICE WILLIAMS: We are so close. The time has gone by so quick. We have 8-hour-a-day rehearsals, but honestly to me, it feels like a 20-minute day just because we’re having fun the whole time.
Has Stephanie given you some good advice for playing Dorothy, Shanice?
WILLIAMS: One of the best pieces of advice she’s given me is always stay humble and live in the moment, because I’m not ever going to get this opportunity again. This is once in a lifetime, so live in the moment. And also, when I sing “Home,” she always reminds me, “You’re the only one on stage, and this is your moment — don’t hold back.”
MILLS: Shanice has all the innocence and purity that Dorothy should have. She’s 19 years old and she’s just wonderful in that role. I’m glad she’s basically an unknown, because she’s not tainted by anything; she’s pure.
And you’re playing Auntie Em this time around, Stephanie. Are you excited for that?
MILLS: Yes, oh my God, yes! What else could I possibly be at 58? But I am so excited to be Aunt Em. It’s very emotional for me to sit back and watch them do this because I so remember when I was in rehearsal for the first time at the theater, and who knew that The Wiz would last 40 years? It’s really, really wonderful.
Have they modernized the story at all for this broadcast or is it the same as it was 40 years ago?
MILLS: They haven’t changed the story at all; it’s the same classic story, it’s a family story for everyone, and it’s just updated. I mean, we thought we were doing something when the munchkins were on rollers and rolling around, but now, when you see Cirque du Soleil doing it, it’s just incredible.
What was your audition like, Shanice?
WILLIAMS: That was my first audition ever — my first real one. I just went in there for the learning experience. I remember the first day I got there like 2 hours early but the line was just so long; it was ridiculous. I think I waited for like 2 hours before I even got inside the building. I sang “Home” and “Be a Lion” and I remember them telling me that I was going to sing for [director] Kenny Leon and I was like, “Oh my God. I’m about to sing for Kenny Leon!” It was amazing.
Do you have a favorite song from the show?
MILLS: “Be a Lion” is my favorite song, and “If You Believe.” Those are my two favorite songs in the show.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I love “Be a Lion.” And of course, “Home” is the big number so I’m excitd for that too.
Is there anything that you want to do after this, Shanice?
WILLIAMS: Broadway’s always been my dream; that’s what I’ve been training for for the past five years, so it would be incredible for me to do Broadway. But I feel like any opportunities that come up, whether it’s film or Broadway, and even Ne-Yo’s been encouraging me to start writing music. I don’t know what’s in my future right now.
What’s it been like to work with huge names like Ne-Yo, Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, and everyone?
WILLIAMS: The fact that everyone in this cast is so chill is incredible. But just to be working with [Mills] now that I’m playing Dorothy — it’s like “Oh my God!” Every time we work together I’m like, “Okay, this is real.”
MILLS: I really don’t come in contact with them. I’m Auntie Em, so I’m stuck in Kansas. Auntie Em don’t go to Oz.
Well, you’ve already been to Oz, so that’s okay.
MILLS: Yes, I have been to Oz, and my trip was quite wonderful.
The Wiz Live! will air on Thursday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.