As I observed yesterday, that movie clearly dominated Harvey Fierstein’s thinking about how to adapt the book of The Wiz for Broadway and TV today.
I spotted some other debts/homages to the MGM film that don’t come from the original Wiz:
- Dorothy wears shiny red sneakers at the start, though public-domain silver shoes later.
- Aunt Em’s farm employs three farmhands played by the men who (lots of makeup later) play the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Lion.
- Dorothy is magically faced with the image of a maternal figure (Aunt Em/her late mother) calling for her.
- We get a view of the distant green spires of the Emerald City across a red-poppy landscape.
- The Wiz has a “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” moment.
- Glinda comes to the Emerald City for the penultimate scene instead of Dorothy and her friends going to Quadlingland.
I saw the original Broadway production decades ago, and some elements of its stagecraft have stuck with me. Most memorable was the tornado depicted by a dancer with fabric billowing from her head, an image that inspired the play’s trademark art. The TV production simulated the tornado instead with projected images and wire-flying—much less magical.
The TV version of the Yellow Brick Road consisted of illuminated parts of the stage, like Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” video. The stage original was four men in yellow costumes with poles—another image that stuck with me strongly since I first saw it, probably because it was such a bold staging choice for my young mind.
Curiously, Baum’s Winged Monkeys, which became Flying Monkeys in the 1939 movie and Funky Monkeys in The Wiz, were referred to only as “Winged Warriors” here.