Everyone knows The Wizard of OZ. The musical tale of a pre-alcoholic Judy Garland journeying over the rainbow to the magical world of OZ is one of cinema’s universally hailed classics. Then there is The Wiz. It’s not that it’s a bad musical at all. The stage musical is a multi-Tony award winning classic and a favorite of African-American rep theater. But the movie version is a mess. The surprising thing is that it has a truly exceptional cast. Like, Michael Jackson and Diana Ross before they got overly weird exceptional. Still, if you are in the mood for some over-the-top 70′s fun with just a hint of racial stereotypes, (OK, more than a hint), than The Wiz is for you.
The Wiz pretty much tells the same story of Dorthy going to OZ as the classic Wizard of OZ, except everyone is Black and OZ is the crappy dangerous New York of the 70′s. Diana Ross plays Dorothy, a Harlem school teacher who ends up in OZ thanks to the machinations of Glinda the Good Witch, played by the great Lena Horne. Ms. Ross has to battle with Evillene, the morbidly obese Wicked Witch that runs a sweatshop in the sewers of New York. Along the way Dorothy meets a Scarecrow (Michael Jackson), a Tinman (Nipsy Russell), and a gay Cowardly Lion (Ted Ross). The whole time they are being chased by monkey motorcycle hybrids…for some reason. They eventually reach The World Trade Center/Emerald City, (respect), and find the Wiz who is none other than a coked out Richard Pryor. Diana kills the Wicked Witch by turning on sprinklers and flushing her down the toilet. Then Lena Horne shows up and sends her back to Harlem.
The production value of the movie is just plain crappy. It looks like a bad high school production of The Wiz, this in spite of the fact that the movie was produced by Motown records in its heyday. Even though Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and Lena Horne are extremely talented singers they CAN NOT ACT. Like, at all. Think of Michael’s ham-fisted performance during the speaking scenes in the Thriller video. “I’m not like other guys…”, no kidding. The set design is a general mess and looks VERY 70′s. The film was hokey at the time but it looks really dated today. Unlike other productions of The Wiz, the movie version just feels kind of hollow, like it was enough for the director to cast Michael Jackson and leave it at that. Still, if you want to see Diana Ross with an Afro skipping down a magical ghetto with Michael Jackson back when he had his original nose, then this is the movie for you.