This Is the Cast I Need To See Remake ‘The Wiz’
With all the other film musicals coming this year and the next few years, like Wicked, The Color Purple, Mean Girls, and more, I somehow missed that The Wizard of Oz (1939) was being remade?! Honestly, it’s an interesting choice, but less so is Kenya Barris’ attachment to the project. Barris has made a series of anti-Black statements and colorist choices in most of his projects. Despite this, he’s remained one of the most powerful Black writers in Hollywood, and this adaptation will probably continue to amplify his negative biases while having a cast full of Black talent.
While I’m all for a racially diverse remake of The Wizard of Oz (albeit not by this director), this is a missed opportunity to remake the all-Black Motown take, The Wiz (1978). Neither adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s book has had a large theatrical remake. However, between the two, The Wiz makes more sense because the original film was received so poorly. Remaking a movie with mixed reviews makes more sense than remaking a film that still stands up relatively well today.
While the casting for The Wiz was fine, what really killed it was issues with transferring the surrealism to the screen. I read about this, but didn’t quite understand how stark that difference was until I saw it live in 2018 as part of the 50th anniversary celebration. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but that it would take a creative team that is more keyed in to what makes it work so well on stage, as well as a creative set design team.
In thinking about this, I couldn’t help but imagine all the talented performers who would be amazing to see in a new theatrical version of The Wiz, so in that spirit, I’ve compiled a list! There are lots of people who would be great for cameos or to be a part of the chorus—names like Phylicia Rashad, Colman Domingo, Amber Riley, Jon Batiste, and H.E.R. (especially as a musician in Emerald City)—however, here’s the main cast for a much-needed film remake of The Wiz.
Dorthy Gale — Celia Rose Gooding
This role took me the longest to find because Dorthy Gale is the leading lady and being very young is essential to her character. Throughout most of the film version of the musical, her voice blends into the chorus until the end of Act II. A majority of the reason we grow to love her comes from the journey of Dorothy slowly gaining confidence with the help of her friends. So I nominate Celia Rose Gooding!
Trekkies will recognize her as Nyota Uhura (the role previously held by Nichelle Nichols) in prequel series Strange New Worlds. However, before she was beep-bopping in space, Gooding played a lead in the rock musical Jagged Little Pill. She has a lot of energy and the potential to make the role her own in every way, especially with her unique and very powerful pipes.
Aunt Em — Sheryl Lee Ralph
Every decade, Sheryl Lee Ralph is introduced to a new audience, and while right now it’s for portraying the formidable Mrs. Howard on Abbott Elementary, one of her earliest and most famous roles was as one of the leading ladies of Dreamgirls when it debuted on Broadway. Aunt Em is a sort of quieter role, but we already know she can play any of the three witches in The Wiz, good or bad. At least, I hope we understand this so that she can play the role of Dorthy’s rock.
Uncle Henry — Craig Robinson
Known for playing several characters in films by Judd Apatow, portraying the Pontiac Bandit in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and hosting his supernatural sitcom Ghosted, Craig Robinson would make a solid uncle to Dorthy. His smile is infectious and his background in performance and music education would be a plus even though his role would be limited in the story.
Scarecrow — Elijah Kelley
This man did not get enough credit for being as talented as he was as Seaweed in 2007’s Hairspray. The fact that we are not sick of seeing Elijah Kelley on the screen (in a just world, where his talent is rewarded with roles upon roles) shows how unappreciative the entertainment industry is of Black performers outside of a few narrow lanes. I’m not sure if he’d be very interested in playing Scarecrow again since he played the character in NBC’s The Wiz Live! (2015), but the rest of us are hyped to see him again!
Tin Man — Johsua Henry
I was set on another actor for this role (who was mentioned in the chorus suggestions above), but seeing Joshua Henry play Gaston in Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration finalized the choice for him to play the Tin Man. One, Henry’s take on Gaston had me questioning my feminism (this man is the embodiment of toxic masculinity), and two, fully convinced me that he would play an excellent Tin Man. He’s mostly known for his deep voice, but has exhibited the ability to do soul runs, which is needed for this character. Like Kelley, Henry played this character once before, but this time in 2009 for Encores!
The Cowardly Lion — Tituss Burgess
For a while, I was toying with whether or not the role should be gender bent. After all, the stakes for a lioness to be brave are much higher because they are the hunters of the pride. However, when thinking of a person who could handle the vocal range (tenor to baritone) and the physicality of the performance, Tituss Burgess came to mind. I’ve listened to his performances in television shows and his musical album, but didn’t know until recently that he actually played the Cowardly Lion in California back in the early 2000s. That’s three for three in the supporting roles department.
Glinda (The Good Witch of the South) — Michaela Jaé Rodriguez
In the film version of The Wiz, Glinda is played by Hollywood starlet and Civil Rights icon Lena Horne, and I think Michaela Jaé Rodriguez (POSE) would be a fitting continuation of that legacy, partially because her career trajectory is aligned to do the same. While I understand, story-wise, why Rodriguez’s performance of “Suddenly Seymour” wasn’t embraced by everyone, I loved it and think that the powerful voice she has and beautiful joy she radiates in interviews would make for a stunning performance of Glinda and her song “If You Believe.”
Evillene (The Wicked Witch of the West) — Brandy Norwood
Because of the particular roles and albums she’s recognized for, Brandy Norwood is known for one singing style and one good-girl character. However, she totally has the range to do more (see her playing Roxie in Chicago), and that should be appreciated by everyone! Let her be Evillene, please!!!
Miss One (The Good Witch of the North) — Denée Benton
In some stage adaptations, Miss One has a much bigger role, and if that were leaned into, then Miss One would be perfect. Miss One is the immature one of the three sisters, and if anyone has a chance to live up to Amber Riley’s portrayal in The Wiz Live!, then it’s Benton.
The Royal Gatekeeper — Keegan-Michael Key
If you watched Schmigadoon!, don’t get turned around by Keegan-Michael Key’s performance as Josh. Key is a big theater nerd and has performed all types of roles on stage before. He joked with Stephen Colbert that the director kept telling him to stop dancing so they could capture the shot of his character hating the situation. This role has a little bit of singing, a little bit of dancing, and it screams Key.
Herman Smith / The Wiz — Janelle Monáe
The only role I think Janelle Monáe would rock more is playing Willy Wonka, but there’s the Oompa Loompa problem. However, Monáe has the voice and the talent to pull off the scammy lead Herman Smith, a.k.a. The Wiz. I wouldn’t mind them playing the role as a man, but the character would be just as interesting played as non-binary or as a woman. Something that could make the big reveal even more of a *sad trombone noise* when the Wiz steps from behind the curtain is the short stature of Monáe, considering she is 5’0″.
Please note that I didn’t pick Monáe because they are from Kansas, possibly performed in The Wiz in high school, have cited Dorthy Gale as one of their oldest musical inspirations, or because they have a history of building narrative structures across albums (shoutout to the fellow fandroids) and expressed interest in writing musicals over a decade ago. This all is just a plus. I genuinely believe that Monáe would kill this role and make a very difficult act to follow.
(featured image: Universal Pictures)
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