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Movie Clips, YouTube

12 Things You Might Not Know About The Wiz

Movie Clips, YouTube
Movie Clips, YouTube

Two years ago, NBC treated us to a live rendition of The Sound of Music. Last December, 9.21 million viewers caught their take on Peter Pan. Tonight at 8 p.m. ET, the network will air The Wiz Live!, a brand new production of the 1975 smash that descended on Broadway like a Kansas twister. Here’s a quick introduction to the musical and its Oz-sized legacy.

1. IT WAS CONCEIVED AS A TV SPECIAL.

NBC is about to come closer to realizing late producer Ken Harper’s original vision than anyone ever has. During the early 1970s, Harper hatched the idea of dramatizing L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz with an all-black cast. At first, he wanted to put this concept not on Broadway, but on network TV. Harper pictured a big-budget televised extravaganza starring Melba Moore as Dorothy, Flip Wilson as the Scarecrow, Godfrey Cambridge as the Lion, and Bill Cosby as the Tin Man, but the idea went nowhere. After mulling over the prospect of turning the premise into a feature film, Harper set his sights on the Great White Way.

2. THE MAIDEN RUN’S COSTUME DESIGNER WAS A FORMER JAMES BOND VILLAIN.

For his work on The Wiz, Geoffrey Holder won a Tony for Best Costume Design. It was one of several that the show would bring home (keep reading). At the time, this son of Trinidadian immigrants was also a director and an up-and-coming actor who had appeared in such movies as Doctor Dolittle (1967) and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972). Film buffs will always associate him first and foremost with the 007 thriller Live and Let Die (1973), in which he portrayed a bombastic fiend known as Baron Samedi.

3. FINISHING THE SCORE TOOK THREE YEARS.

“I’d start to work at 11:30 at night, when everyone else went to bed,” lead composer Charlie Smalls told The Los Angeles Times. The musician went on to claim that The Wiz’s signature style could be described as “sophisticated funk.” Smalls also helped to write some new songs for the movie version before dying of cardiac arrest in 1987, when he was just 43 years old.

4. “EVERYBODY REJOICE” WAS WRITTEN BY LUTHER VANDROSS.

Though the score was mostly written by Smalls, he couldn’t take credit for every single number. One of the show’s most popular songs, “Everybody Rejoice” (a.k.a. “A Brand New Day”) was penned by Luther Vandross, the vocalist who later wrote such Billboard hits as “Don’t Want to Be a Fool,” “Power of Love/Love Power,” and “Here and Now.”  

5. STEPHANIE MILLS (THE ORIGINAL DOROTHY) DIDN’T EVEN WANT TO AUDITION.

Mills was 16 years old when she found out about The Wiz. She hadn't yet had much theatrical success, and, according to the actress, she didn't even want to audition for the show. “I had gone out for so many things and did not get them,” she told ChicagoPride.com. Eventually, Mills’s mother persuaded her to try out anyway—and “that experience ended up changing my life,” Mills said. The Wiz kicked off Mills’s career as a musician and Broadway star. For a long time thereafter, Dorothy’s solo “Home” was her signature song. In The Wiz Live!, Mills will return to her roots to play Aunt Em.

6. THE WIZ’S FIRST DIRECTOR WAS FIRED BEFORE THE SHOW REACHED NEW YORK.

The Wiz had its world premiere in Baltimore on October 21, 1974. Prior to the curtain’s rise that night, director Gilbert Moses III addressed his audience, confessing that one actor was sick, another had been replaced, and that there hadn’t been time for a single technical rehearsal. Moses was dismissed shortly thereafter.

Holder then took over and started making significant changes. He cut an Act I song titled “Which Where, Which What, Which Why?” The costume designer also removed a number of puns and a character known as the “Queen of the Field Mice.” The revised musical came to Broadway’s Majestic Theatre on January 5, 1975.

7. THE WIZ WAS ONLY THE SECOND BROADWAY SHOW TO EMBRACE TV ADVERTISING.

Before 1972’s Pippin, no Broadway musical had ever mounted a TV ad blitz. After a few weeks’ worth of poorly-attended performances, The Wiz followed suit to make up for lost time; 101 television commercial spots were purchased at a cost of $120,000.

Harper and 20th Century Fox (which helped finance The Wiz) had a strong disagreement about what these ads would look like. “They wanted to use part of the lion in the poppy field scene,” Harper said, “but I said no. We were aiming for families, so I thought the ‘Ease on Down the Road’ segment was more appropriate.” Harper won out and, thanks largely to those memorable advertisements, The Wiz finally found its audience.

8. SOME EARLY REVIEWS WERE NOT FAVORABLE.

By and large, the reviews were unkind to this bold new interpretation of The Wizard of Oz. “The quickest way to start a race riot, other than bombing the White House, is for someone to tamper with an American classic like The Wizard of Oz,” wrote critic Rex Reed. Walter Kerr of The New York Times called it “feeble at every turn.” His colleague, Clive Barnes, more or less concurred, writing, “There are many things to enjoy in The Wiz, but, with apologies, this critic noticed them without actually enjoying them.” Still, a combination of effective advertising and word-of-mouth buzz sent The Wiz onto a four-year, 1672-performance run.

9. IT WON SEVEN TONY AWARDS.

The critics really ate their words when The Wiz claimed seven Tonys, including awards for Best Musical, Best Choreography, and Best Original Score. Holder’s efforts were rewarded with not one but two Tonys: Best Costume Design (Play or Musical) and Best Direction of a Musical. Finally, Dee Dee Bridgewater (Glinda) and Ted Ross (the Lion) were respectively named Best Featured Actress and Actor.

10. PHYLICIA RASHAD WAS IN THE ORIGINAL ENSEMBLE.

Long before she became TV’s Clair Huxtable, Rashad brought her talents to The Wiz, playing a Munchkin.

11. AT THE TIME, ITS 1978 FILM ADAPTATION WAS THE MOST EXPENSIVE MOVIE MUSICAL EVER MADE.

The film, which cost $24 million, bombed at the box office.

12. MICHAEL JACKSON’S SCARECROW MAKEUP TOOK FOUR HOURS TO APPLY.

The Wiz marked Jackson's film debut, and while most critics panned the movie, his performance was widely praised. “It’s good that the Scarecrow is the first traveling companion [Dorothy] meets,” Roger Ebert wrote. “Michael Jackson fills the role with humor and warmth.”

Legendary special effects artist Stan Winston (one of the geniuses behind The Terminator and Aliens) oversaw Jackson’s makeup. Every morning, this required four hours to put on and, sometimes, the singer wouldn’t bother removing it before going to bed after a long day’s shoot.

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Jim Henson's Labyrinth Is Being Adapted Into a Stage Musical
Henson Company
Henson Company

More than 30 years after its cinematic debut, Labyrinth could be hitting the stage. In an interview with Forbes, Jim Henson's son and Henson Company CEO Brian Henson shared plans to transform the cult classic into a live musical.

While the new musical would be missing David Bowie in his starring role as Jareth the Goblin King, it would hopefully feature the soundtrack Bowie helped write. Brian Henson says there isn't a set timeline for the project yet, but the stage adaptation of the original film is already in the works.

As for a location, Henson told Forbes he envisions it running, "Not necessarily [on] Broadway, it could be for London's West End, but it will be a stage show, a big theatrical version. It’s very exciting."

Labyrinth premiered in 1986 to measly box office earnings and tepid reviews, but Jim Henson's fairytale has since grown into a phenomenon beloved by nostalgic '80s kids and younger generations alike. In the same Forbes interview, Brian Henson also confirmed the 2017 news that a long-anticipated Labyrinth sequel is apparently in development. Though he couldn't give any specifics, Henson confirmed that, "we are still excited about it but the process moves very slowly and very carefully. We're still excited about the idea of a sequel, we are working on something, but nothing that's close enough to say it's about to be in pre-production or anything like that."

While fans eagerly await those projects to come out, they can get their fix when the film returns to theaters across the U.S. on April 29, May 1, and May 2. Don't forget to wear your best Labyrinth swag to the event.

[h/t Forbes]

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10 Wild Facts About Westworld
John P. Johnson, HBO
John P. Johnson, HBO

The hit HBO show about an android farm girl finding sentience in a fake version of the old West set in a sci-fi future is back for a second season. So grab your magnifying glass, study up on Lewis Carroll and Shakespeare, and get ready for your brain to turn to scrambled eggs. 

The first season saw Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and her robotic compatriots strive to escape bondage as the puppet playthings of a bored society that kills and brutalizes them every day, then repairs them each night to repeat the process for paying customers. The Maze. The Man in Black. The mysteries lurking in cold storage and cantinas. Wood described the first season as a prequel, which means the show can really get on the dusty trail now. 

Before you board the train and head back into the park, here are 10 wild facts about the cerebral, sci-fi hit. (Just beware of season one spoilers!)

1. IT’S NOT THE FIRST TV ADAPTATION OF THE MOVIE.

Though Westworld, the 1973 film written and directed by Michael Crichton, was a hit, its 1976 sequel Futureworld was a flop. Still, the name and concept had enough cachet for CBS to move forward with a television concept in 1980. Beyond Westworld featured Delos head of security John Moore (Jim McMullan) battling against the villainous mad scientist Simon Quaid (James Wainwright), who wants to use the park’s robots to, what else, take over the whole world. It would be a little like if the HBO show focused largely on Luke Hemsworth’s Ashley Stubbs, which just might be the spinoff the world is waiting for.

2. THE ORIGINAL GUNSLINGER HAS A CAMEO.

Ed Harris and Eddie Rouse in 'Westworld'
JOHN P. JOHNSON, HBO

The HBO series pays homage to the original film in a variety of ways, including echoing elements from the score to create that dread-inducing soundscape. It also tipped its ten-gallon hat to Yul Brynner’s relentless gunslinger from the original film by including him in the storage basement with the rest of the creaky old models.

3. QUENTIN TARANTINO, ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, AND MANY OTHERS COULD HAVE REBOOTED IT.

Speaking of Brynner’s steely, murderous resolve: His performance as the robo-cowboy was one of the foundations for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s turn as the Terminator. Nearly 20 years later, in 2002, Schwarzenegger signed on to produce and star in a reboot of the sci-fi film from which he took his early acting cues. Schwarzenegger never took over the role from Brynner because he served as Governor of California instead, and the reboot languished in development hell.

Warner Bros. tried to get Quentin Tarantino on board, but he passed. They also signed The Cell director Tarsem Singh (whose old West would have been unbelievably lush and colorful, no doubt), but it fell through. A few years later, J.J. Abrams—who had met with Crichton about a reboot back in 1996—pitched eventual co-creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy on doing it as a television series. HBO bought it, and the violent delights finally made it to our screens.

4. IT COSTS $40,000 A DAY TO VISIT THE PARK. (AND THAT’S THE CHEAP PACKAGE.)

Thandie Newton and Angela Sarafyan in 'Westworld'
HBO

In season one, Logan (Ben Barnes) revealed that he’s spending $40,000 a day to experience Westworld. That’s in line with the 1973 movie, where park visitors spent $1000 a day, which lands near $38,000 once adjusted for inflation. Then again, we’re talking about 2052 dollars, so it might still be pricey, but not exorbitant in 2018 terms. But a clever Redditor spotted that $40,000 is the minimum you’d pay; according to the show’s website, the Gold Package will set you back $200,000 a day.

5. BEN BARNES BROKE HIS FOOT AND DIDN’T TELL ANYONE.

Once Upon a Time’s Eion Bailey was originally cast as Logan but had to quit due to a scheduling conflict, so Ben Barnes stepped in … then he broke his foot. The actor hid the injury for fear he’d lose the job, which is why he added a limp as a character detail. “I’m sort of hobbling along with this kind of cowboy-ish limp, which I then tried to maintain for the next year just so I could pretend it was a character choice,” Barnes said. “But really I had a very purple foot … So walking was the hardest part of shooting this for me.”

6. THE CO-CREATORS RICKROLLED FANS OBSESSED WITH UNCOVERING SPOILERS.

Eagle-eyed fans (particularly on Reddit) uncovered just about every major spoiler from the first season early on, which is why Nolan and Joy promised a spoiler video for anyone who wanted to know the entire plot of season two ahead of its premiere. They delivered, but instead of show secrets, the 25-minute video only offered a classy rendition of Rick Astley’s internet-infamous “Never Gonna Give You Up,” sung by Evan Rachel Wood with Angela Sarafyan on piano, followed by 20 minutes of a dog. It was a pitch-perfect response to a fanbase desperate for answers.

7. IT FEATURES AN ANCIENT GREEK EASTER EGG.

Amid the alternative rock tunes hammered out on the player piano and hat tips to classic western films, Westworld also referenced something from 5th century BCE Greece. Westworld, which is run by Delos Incorporated, is designed so that guests cannot die. Delos is also the name of the island where ancient Greeks made it illegal for anyone to die (or be born for that matter) on religious grounds. That’s not the only bit of wordplay with Greek either: Sweetwater’s main ruffian, Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro), gets his last name from the Greek eschaton, meaning the final event in the divine design of the world. Fitting for a potentially sentient robot helping to bring about humanity’s destruction.

8. JIMMI SIMPSON FIGURED OUT HIS CHARACTER’S TWIST BECAUSE OF HIS EYEBROWS.

Evan Rachel Wood and Jimmi Simpson in 'Westworld'
HBO

In season one, the show’s many secrets were kept even from the main cast until the time they absolutely needed to know. Jimmi Simpson, who plays timid theme park neophyte William, had a hunch something was funny with his role because of a cosmetic change.

“I was with an amazing makeup artist, Christian, and he was looking at my face too much,” Simpson told Vanity Fair. “He had me in his chair, and he was just looking at my face, and then he said something about my eyebrows. ‘Would you be cool if we just took a couple hairs out of your eyebrows, made them not quite as arched?’” Guessing that they were making him look more like The Man in Black, Simpson said something to Joy, and she confirmed his hunch. “She looked kind of surprised I’d worked it out,” he said.

9. THE PLAYER PIANO MAY BE AN ALLUSION TO KURT VONNEGUT.

One of the show’s most iconic elements is its soundtrack of alternative rock songs from the likes of Radiohead, The Cure, and Soundgarden redone in a jaunty, old West style. In addition to adding a creepy sonic flavor to the sadistic vacation, they also may wink toward Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano, which deals with a dystopia of automation where machines do everything for humans, leading to an entrenched class struggle. The show’s resonant elements are clear, but Westworld also mentions that the world outside the theme park is one where there’s no unemployment and humans have little purpose. Like The Man In Black (Ed Harris), the protagonist of Player Piano also longs for real stakes in the struggle of life.

10. THERE ARE TWO JESSE JAMES CONNECTIONS.

Anthony Hopkins and Jeffrey Wright in 'Westworld'
HBO

Anthony Hopkins’s character Dr. Robert Ford is an invention for the new series, and he shares a name with the man who assassinated infamous outlaw Jesse James (a fact you may remember from the aptly named movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). The final episode of the first season flips the allusion when Ford is shot in the back of the head, which is exactly how the real-life Ford killed James.

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