Monday, May 9, 2022

Michael Jackson - The Wiz (1978)

Michael Jackson - The Wiz (1978)

Tracklist front / back album covers

1. "Overture Part I"   2:36
2. "Overture Part II"   1:57
3. "The Feeling That We Had"   3:26
4. "Can I Go On?"   1:56
5. "Tornado / Glinda's Theme"   1:10
6. "He's the Wizard"   4:09
7. "Soon As I Get Home / Home"   4:04
8. "You Can't Win"   3:14
9. "Ease on Down the Road #1"   3:55
10. "What Would I Do If I Could Feel?"   2:18
11. "Slide Some Oil to Me"   2:51
12. "Ease on Down the Road #2"   1:31
13. "I'm a Mean Ole Lion"   2:24
14. "Ease on Down the Road #3"   1:26
15. "Poppy Girls Theme"   3:27
16. "Be a Lion"   4:04
17. "End of the Yellow Brick Road"   1:01
18. "Emerald City Sequence"   6:44
19. "Is This What Feeling Gets? (Dorothy's Theme)"   3:21
20. "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News"   3:03
21. "Everybody Rejoice / A Brand New Day"   7:49
22. "Believe in Yourself (Dorothy)"   2:55
23. "The Good Witch Glinda"   1:09
24. "Believe in Yourself (Reprise)"   2:15
25. "Home (Finale)"    4:03

Box office
The Wiz proved to be a commercial failure, as the $24 million production only earned $13.6 million at the box office. Though prerelease television broadcast rights had been sold to CBS for over $10 million, in the end, the film produced a net loss of $10.4 million for Motown and Universal. At the time, it was the most expensive film musical ever made. The film's failure steered Hollywood studios away from producing the all-black film projects that had become popular during the blaxploitation era of the early to mid-1970s for several years.

The Wiz was the eighth feature film produced by Motown Productions, the film/TV division of Berry Gordy's Motown Records label. Gordy originally wanted the teenaged future R&B singer Stephanie Mills, who had originated the role on Broadway, to be cast as Dorothy. When Motown star Diana Ross asked Gordy if she could be cast as Dorothy, he declined, saying that Ross—then 33 years old—was too old for the role. Ross went around Gordy and convinced executive producer Rob Cohen at Universal Pictures to arrange a deal where he would produce the film if Ross was cast as Dorothy. Gordy and Cohen agreed to the deal. Pauline Kael, a film critic, described Ross's efforts to get the film into production as "perhaps the strongest example of sheer will in film history."

After film director John Badham learned that Ross was going to play the part of Dorothy, he decided not to direct the film, and Cohen replaced him with Sidney Lumet. Of his decision not to direct The Wiz, John Badham recalled telling Cohen that he thought Ross was "a wonderful singer. She's a terrific actress and a great dancer, but she's not this character. She's not the little six-year-old girl Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz." Though 20th Century Fox had financially backed the stage musical, they ended up exercising their first refusal rights to the film production, which gave Universal an opening to finance the film. Initially, Universal was so excited about the film's prospects that they did not set a budget for production.

Diana Ross as Dorothy Gale
Michael Jackson as Scarecrow
Nipsey Russell as Tin Man
Ted Ross as Cowardly Lion / Fleetwood Coupe DeVille
Richard Pryor as Herman Smith / The Wiz
Lena Horne as Glinda The Good Witch of the South
Mabel King as Evillene The Wicked Witch of the West
Thelma Carpenter as Miss One the Good Witch of The North
Theresa Merritt as Shelby Gale / Aunt Em
Stanley Greene as Uncle Henry

The Wiz is a 1978 American musical adventure fantasy film produced by Universal Pictures and Motown Productions and released by Universal Pictures on October 24, 1978. A reimagining of L. Frank Baum's classic 1900 children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz featuring an all-Black cast, the film was loosely adapted from the 1974 Broadway musical of the same title. It follows the adventures of Dorothy, a shy, twenty-four-year-old Harlem schoolteacher who finds herself magically transported to the urban fantasy Land of Oz, which resembles a dream version of New York City. Befriended by a Scarecrow, a Tin Man, and a Cowardly Lion, she travels through the city to seek an audience with the mysterious Wiz, who they say is the only one powerful enough to send her home.

Filming took place in Queens, New York from October to December of 1977. Produced by Rob Cohen and directed by Sidney Lumet, the film stars Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, in his feature film debut, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, Mabel King, Theresa Merritt, Thelma Carpenter, Lena Horne and Richard Pryor. Its story was reworked from William F. Brown's Broadway libretto by Joel Schumacher, and Quincy Jones supervised the adaptation of Charlie Smalls and Luther Vandross' songs for it. A handful of new songs, written by Jones and the songwriting team of Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson, were added for the project.

Upon its original theatrical release, the film was a critical and commercial failure, and it marked the end of the resurgence of African-American films that began with the blaxploitation movement of the early 1970s. Despite its initial failure, it became a cult classic among black audiences, Jackson's fanbase, and Oz enthusiasts. Certain aspects influenced The Wiz Live!, a live television adaptation of the musical, aired on NBC in 2015.

A crowded Thanksgiving dinner brings a host of family together in a small Harlem apartment, where shy, twenty-four-year-old elementary schoolteacher Dorothy Gale lives with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry ("The Feeling That We Had"). Extremely introverted, she is teased by Aunt Em for having delayed moving out to start her life as an adult ("Can I Go On?"). While Dorothy cleans up after the meal, her dog Toto runs out the open kitchen door into a snowstorm. She succeeds in retrieving him but finds herself trapped in the storm. A magical whirlwind made of snow materializes and transports them to the realm of Oz, depicted as a dystopian version of New York City.

As Dorothy descends from the atmosphere she smashes through an electric "Oz" sign, which falls upon and kills Evermean, the Wicked Witch of the East who rules Munchkinland. As a result, she frees the Munchkins who populate the playground into which she lands. Dorothy soon meets the Munchkins' main benefactress, Miss One, the Good Witch of the North, a magical "numbers runner" who gives her Evermean's charmed silver slippers. Dorothy declares she just wants to get home to Aunt Em. Miss One urges her to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City and seek the help of the powerful "Wiz" ("He's the Wiz"). After telling her never to take the silver shoes off, Miss One and the Munchkins disappear and Dorothy is left to search for the road on her own ("Soon As I Get Home").

The next morning, Dorothy happens upon a scarecrow made of garbage and saves him from being teased by a group of humanoid crows ("You Can't Win"). The Scarecrow hopes the Wiz might be able to give him the one thing he feels that he lacks: a brain. They discover the yellow brick road and begin to "Ease on Down the Road." Along the way, they meet the Tin Man in an abandoned amusement park ("If I Could Feel"/"Slide Some Oil to Me") and a Cowardly Lion, banished from the jungle ("I'm a Mean Ol' Lion"). The Tin Man and Lion join them on their quest to find the Wiz, hoping to gain a heart and courage, respectively. En route to the Emerald City, the adventurers escape from a haunted subway station and a group of flamboyant prostitutes known as the "Poppy Girls," who seduce the Lion. The Lion feels deeply ashamed of leading Dorothy into a trap, but she and the rest of the gang cheer him up ("Be a Lion").

Finally reaching the Emerald City, the four friends are granted an audience with the Wiz, who appears to them as a giant fire-breathing metallic head. He will only grant their wishes if they kill the sister of the Wicked Witch of the East, Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West, who runs a sweatshop in the underground sewers of Oz. Before they can reach her domain, Evillene learns of their quest to kill her and sends out the Flying Monkeys to capture them ("Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News").

Vengeful for Dorothy having killed her sister, she dismembers the Scarecrow, flattens the Tin Man, and hangs the Lion up by his tail in hopes of making Dorothy give her the silver shoes. When she threatens to throw Toto into a fiery cauldron, Dorothy nearly gives in until the Scarecrow hints to her to activate a fire sprinkler switch. The sprinklers put out the fire and melt Evillene. With Evillene dead, her spells lose their power ("A Brand New Day").

The Flying Monkeys give Dorothy and her friends a triumphant ride back to the Emerald City, where they discover that the Wiz is actually Herman Smith, a failed politician from Atlantic City. The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion are distraught that they will never receive their brain, heart, and courage, but Dorothy makes them realize that they already have had these things all along ("Believe in Yourself") even as she fears she will never find her own way home. Glinda appears and implores her to use the magic of the silver slippers ("Believe in Yourself (Reprise)"). After thanking Glinda and saying goodbye to her friends, she reminisces about "Home". She clicks her heels together three times and discovers she is back near home with Toto in her arms.

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