*The backstories for Dorothy and The Wiz in NBC’s live broadcast of “The Wiz” have been revealed by director Kenny Leon – and don’t expect the duo to resemble any Dorothy or Wiz character we’ve seen before.
“Men are not speaking for them, and that’s the way it should be anyway,” Leon said of the updated roles.
The director swears he wasn’t trying to make a statement when he suggested Queen Latifah play the title role in “The Wiz Live!” The director simply believed she was the best actor — male or female — for the part.
“There’s no reason she can’t be a woman — it’s a dream!” he told The Hollywood Reporter during a New York City press day for the NBC musical. Seizing the opportunity to say something “about the treatment of women,” he and book writer Harvey Fierstein included a new backstory for Latifah’s character.
“She didn’t have the greatest relationship with her husband and that’s how she ended up here. All of the women in this story, they make their own decisions in collaboration with men, but the men are not speaking for them, and that’s the way it should be anyway,” he says.
As for Shanice Williams’ newly-empowered Dorothy, she sets out on a journey driven by her own desires, rather than a victim merely reacting to strong tornadoes and flying houses, or a very helpful friend to the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion in Oz.
“In the movie, her dog gets in trouble by going in the garden, remember? So she wants to go somewhere where there isn’t any trouble. That’s not really a journey, not the kind of journey that the other characters have. I felt, why shouldn’t she have as important a journey?” Fierstein told reporters. “And she’s living with her aunt and uncle, and nobody ever asks why. Where are your parents?”
NBC’s update has Dorothy begrudgingly yanked out of Omaha after her parents suddenly pass away, and having trouble adjusting to a new school, new friends and a new life under her aunt’s roof.
“Her aunt says, ‘Maybe if I could do magic and put your parents back in that house for you, I would do it, but that’s not the way it works,’ ” Fierstein explained. “I have her want to go home, and her aunt says, ‘There’s nothing but an empty house there, baby. This is your home. But there’s a storm coming, and as much as I love you, and as much as I know what’s right for you, I can’t stop you the rest of your life. You’re gonna have to figure this out for yourself.'”
In the end, “when the Wiz offers to take her back to Omaha in the balloon, you remember in the movie, she misses the balloon by accident? Again, she’s just a victim. And I said no. I have her just about to get into the balloon and say, ‘No, my home is in Kansas with my Aunt Em, and I gotta get there,” Fierstein revealed. “She becomes the hero of her own story in this version, which I’m very proud of.”
“The Wiz Live!” airs Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. on NBC.