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Wiz, The (1978)

Sidney Lumet’s schmaltzy all-black disco-flavoured musical version of The Wizard of Oz starred 34-year old Diana Ross as shy and fragile 24-year-old schoolteacher Dorothy Gale (pictured above).

Dorothy lives in Harlem with her family until a freak snowstorm blows her and her dog, Toto, far away. When she alights, she finds herself in a graffiti-covered slum surrounded by boys and girls who are filled with delight that she inadvertently killed their evil ruler as she landed.

She is presented with a pair of silver slippers and told that some strange personage called The Wiz – who lives in the Emerald City at the end of the yellow brick road – can return her to her home.

On her travels along the yellow brick road, Dorothy is joined by a cowardly lion (Ted Ross) outside New York’s Public Library, a heartless tin man (Nipsey Russell) in Coney Island and a brainless scarecrow in a cornfield in Harlem (?), played by old plastic nose himself – Michael Jackson.

As the quartet continue their journey, they are threatened by perils in the New York subway, in Shea Stadium and in a (definitely non-union) sweatshop where the evil Eviline (Mabel King) sics her flying monkeys (called ‘winkies’ instead of harpies) on the travellers, accompanied by the showstopper Don’t Bring Me No Bad News.

After several narrow escapes, they cross the bridge to Emerald City (Manhattan of course) where they are granted an audience with The Wiz. In keeping with the original movie, the Wiz is anything but wonderous. He’s a broken-down hack of a politician, trapped by the same doubts and fears that plague Dorothy and her friends.

Eventually, it’s up to the glorious Lena Horne as Glinda the Good Witch singing Believe In Yourself to provide The Wiz with a happy ending.

The critical pummelling of The Wiz was savage, even extending to the soundtrack album which was written and co-produced by Quincy Jones.

But even Judy Garland might have had difficulty recognising the soporific poppy fields transformed into Poppy Street where ladies of easy virtue peddled cocaine!

wiz_005

Dorothy Gale
Diana Ross
Scarecrow

Michael Jackson
Tin Man

Nipsey Russell
Lion

Ted Ross
The Wiz

Richard Pryor
Eviline the Evil Witch

Mabel King
Glinda the Good Witch

Lena Horne
Aunt Em

Theresa Merritt

Director
Sidney Lumet