Queen Latifah and Mary J. Blige spoke to the magic of “The Wiz Live!,” airing December 3rd 8/7c on NBC, when I asked them about its longevity.
What’s so special about “The Wiz” and what was your first introduction to it?
QUEEN LATIFAH: It was the first Broadway play that I ever saw. My mom took me there as a kid. I don’t know how she hustled up these tickets. I know money was tight, but she managed to get some tickets and took us to see it and I was blow away. I was amazed by it. It just changed my whole mind frame. Seeing a story that I was familiar with and told through the lens of people who look like me, African American, it felt more relatable.
It felt like a place where Oz just wasn’t a fantasyland, but a place I could go. A place that made me feel something different than any place else and seeing Stephanie Mills perform, I was with her. I took this ride along with her. It made me feel like I could do this. So I became more inclined to audition for the school plays and really see it as a real possibility, something that I wanted to maybe do in my life. It definitely changed and shifted my mind in a big way.
MARY J. BLIGE: The Wiz means so much to me. It’s the only reason why I am here because it changed my life, too. As a kid, growing up in the inner cities, it’s hard to leave. But when you see Michael Jackson and Diana Ross, who are both the untouchables and the biggest entertainers of our time, it makes you think that you can do it too because it’s Michael Jackson and he’s the Scarecrow. So it gave me hope. It inspired me, it encouraged me, it told me I had in me what I needed already to make it in the world. So to be a part of something that can do the same thing for another generation or for people who have never seen ‘The Wiz’ before, it’s amazing!
Are there any qualities that your characters have that you can relate to?
MJB: I can relate to Evillene saying, ‘No bad news,’ because when I’m paying you to work this. I’m one of the nicest people, but when people who just can’t make it happen and it’s always about excuses and it’s like, ‘I can’t.’ I don’t want to hear it.
QL: I think my character knows how to make the best out of a bad situation no matter what. I think the Wiz kind of happened into this and hey, the show must go on and knows how to switch off that and switch onto this and make it happen.
What’s it like to wear the costumes and seeing yourself in them?
QL: I would say they are heavy! Amazing!
MJB: I’d say heavy and nice! It’s amazing costumes. They did an amazing job. Unbelievable. The crown is heavy. I’m afraid that the thing will be flying off. The gown, it feels like its 15 to 20 lbs. It’s hard to move in!
QL: She’s going to work that crown! And work that outfit. But for me, the weird thing is, green is my favorite color. I mostly wear black and blue, but green is actually my favorite color. Maybe it’s because of the Wiz. But I love my costume. When I put it on it takes me there into full character. I put on the costume and I feel like, ‘Whoa!’ My posture changes, my attitude changes, my shoulders get bigger and I start feeling a little bossier. I just want to tell somebody to do something that they don’t even deserve told to be doing just because I can. I feel like I got ignorance coming out of my pores when I put on the costume. I feel evil!
MJB: That’s how I feel! It’s like, yeah y’all, I’m the motha bleep! [Laughs]
QL: Yeah, exactly! That’s how we roll! And I’m slightly scared of her character so I’m not going to deal with her too much. She’s very wicked.
Syndicated Entertainment journalist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]
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