Dorothy, a twenty-four-year-old kindergarten teacher, born; raised; and still working in Harlem, is celebrating Thanksgiving with her extended family, but she doesn't seem to be thankful for much in life. She lives a self-imposed sheltered life; she is shy and unfulfilled. Things change for her when she is caught in a snowstorm while chasing after her dog, Toto. They are transported to the mysterious Land of Oz, where she is informed that the only possible way to find her way back home is through the assistance of the powerful wizard in Emerald City. As she goes searching for him, she befriends some creatures who are facing problems in life just as she is. In their quest to find and get help from the wizard, they also face Evillene, the equally evil sister of Evermean, the wicked witch, whom Dorothy inadvertently killed when she arrived in Oz, and who may be their biggest obstacle in achieving their goals.Written by
I'm sure the idea for "The Wiz" looked good on paper: a modern, all-black musical retelling of "The Wizard of Oz," with the boroughs of New York subbing in for the Emerald City and environs. Indeed, nothing is wrong with the concept--revisions and re-imaginings can work, and have been part of music theater for almost as long as the genre has existed. But for every "West Side Story," we get something like...well, like this.
Dorothy (Diana Ross) here is a 24-year-old Harlem schoolteacher, and as the story opens we are treated to scenes of her Aunt Em telling her to switch her kindergarten students for high schoolers, move out of the house, and basically get on with her life. But Dorothy doesn't want to, because--well, she's scared, I guess. Certainly not because she finds her current job enjoyable or fulfilling, or is better working with younger kids than with teenagers, or doesn't make enough money to afford the rents in New York City. So it's off to Oz, where she metaphorically sorts out her problems by killing witches and associating with strange men. (One of those strange men, the Scarecrow, is played by Michael Jackson--and you can write your own joke from here.)
It's always irritating when the directors of movie musicals hire actors who can't sing (as in "Paint Your Wagon"), but "The Wiz" proves that hiring singers who can't act is just as bad. Ross makes Dorothy so whiny, ineffective, and unappealing that you simply want to slap her. Jackson's not much better, delivering all his lines in the same breathy monotone--although it is nice to watch him back when he was at the threshold of a productive and memorable music career, instead of the disturbing self-caricature he has become. Everyone else hams it up accordingly, especially Richard Pryor as the title character.
Of course, neither director Sidney Lumet nor writers William F. Brown and Joel Schumacher made things any easier for the cast to begin with. Between the three of them, they leave no point unhit with a sledgehammer, and no stereotype unexploited (the worst: the crows who harass the Scarecrow, who bear a resemblance to the ones in "Dumbo" and who, I'm guessing, are all named Jim). With the exception of a celebratory dance after the Wicked Witch's demise, the choreography is rather bland and photographed in an uninvolving manner. The action frequently drags too long, leaving us looking at the time clock on the DVD player when we should be watching the characters.
There is a great book out there by Gregory Maguire called "Wicked" (which itself is now a Broadway musical). It reimagines Oz in a thoughtful and interesting manner. Read it instead.
21 of 38 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this