shanice williams & toto

Shanice Williams and Toto.

The airing of “The Wiz Live!” Thursday, December 3rd 8/7c on NBC is truly a momentous occasion considering the fact that when the Broadway musical “The Wiz” was scheduled for a Broadway run, naysayers said it would be a flop. Not only was it a big success with Stephanie Mills as Dorothy, but it spawned the movie starring Michael Jackson and Diana Ross.

In an interview with Shanice Williams (Dorothy), at Grummun Studios in Bethage, New York, I asked her what was so magical about The Wiz that it has been so endeared over the decades? “When I went to LA and I found out I didn’t belong there,” she recalled, “just like Dorothy who wants to go to Omaha, she misses home. In the beginning, she’s struggling to find out who she is and where she belongs.

“I feel everyone has a little bit of that inside them, especially at my age, trying to figure out who I am. So we really connect.  [Also], it’s magical for me because this is my first thing ever. The sets, when I first saw them, I was crying. It’s a fantasy world. It’s beautiful and I’m so proud to be a part of all this. In this role I get to do everything so it’s been fun and magical.

“I auditioned for the role a day after I got off the plane from Los Angeles. I was in school and it was a rough time in my life. I felt like I didn’t belong there. But when I came home, I had to do something with my life. I didn’t know what was next. But I knew performing was what I wanted to do. If I go to this audition, I would at least know what a huge audition would be like. I’d get that off my plate. So that’s why I went for the learning experience. This role seemed impossible to me but I auditioned and got the role!

Shanice, did you learn anything about yourself taking on this role?

I’ve learned a lot about myself. You have to be focused all the time. The most important thing is to stay humble because there are always people telling you that you’re this and that you’re going to do that. So you have to remember it’s all about the work. Being with this cast, they teach me so much. They’ve taught me about living in the moment and just by watching their work process, I’ve learned a lot. To have the lead role in this, I feel like I am ready for anything to come.

How great will the pressure be on the night of the live taping?

There’s pressure no matter what you do and Kenny (Leon) has this saying if you’re going to pray, don’t worry and if you’re going to worry, don’t pray. I’m taking his advice and I’m doing a lot of praying. I’ve already been doing a lot of praying. So I’m doing that and lay it all on the table and give it my best. The biggest challenge at the beginning was David (Alan Grier) because he never turns off. I got in trouble because you really have to focus and not be thrown off. But it’s nonstop fun. I love working with the cast.

Shanice Williams on the Yellow carpet at Grummon Studios.

Shanice Williams at Grummon Studios.

Do you see yourself in Dorothy?

Yes, it’s creepy but we are the same person. I went to Los Angeles for acting and I thought that’s where I wanted to go and I found out that I didn’t belong there. Just like Dorothy she thinks she wants to go to Omaha and she realizes how much she misses her home and that was me. And at the beginning, she’s struggling to find out who she is and where she belongs. I feel like everyone has a little bit of that, especially at my age, trying to figure out who I am. So we really connect in that aspect.

How much did you know about The Wiz before being cast?

Well, I did it in middle school but I was too nervous to try out for Dorothy so I ended up playing Addaperle. But I’d watch the movie all the time and me and my dad listened to the soundtrack in the car. So I was already in love with the story long before this happened.

What was it like working with Toto?

There are two dogs, Toto and his understudy. We’ve come a long way and he likes me. He’s 10 years old, so he’s not too much trouble. He really has a tremendous trainer.

If they restaged The Wiz twenty years from now, what charactee would you want to  play?

The bond that me and Stephanie (Mills) had when she was playing Auntie Em was amazing. So I guess if they did it 20 years from now, I would want to be Aunt Em. It’s just so special that part in the beginning where it’s just her and Dorothy. It would be like passing the torch. When I’m with her I feel anything is possible.

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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