Here Are Our Grades of NBC’s ‘The Wiz LIVE!’ Cast


This week, the entire core cast of The Wiz LIVE! was finally announced. After weeks of dream and fan casting, we now know who will be filling the legendary roles in the live performance of the 1978 cult musical hit which featured Black stars like Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor and Nipsey Russell.

Just how good of a fit are the new castmembers? We’ve graded each one below.

Dorothy – Shanice Williams

shanice williamsNot just a relative unknown but a real unknown, 16 year old Shanice Williams won the coveted role through an open call. Due to her unknown status, we know little to nothing about her; all we have is an edited audition tape. But from this snippet, it looks like we have a serious new talent on our hands.



Grade: ?

Aunt Em – Stephanie Mills


For nostalgia reasons (and legendary status reasons), casting Stephanie Mills as Aunt Em is as perfect as it gets. I already can’t wait for her to slay “The Feeling We Once Had.” When she sings that song to Dorothy, she will be effectively passing down the torch to Shanice Williams, and that is bound to be great television.



Grade: A+

The Wiz – Queen Latifah

Queen_Latifah_in_Red_Carpet_Grammy_2015This casting threw me for a loop, as it changes the gender of the original role and you’d expect for Latifah to have some sort of singing presence. But the more I thought about this, the more I realized that this might be a truly inspired choice. After seeing her in Bessie, we know she can play broken down with the best of them. Plus, she’s funny and I can totally hear her voice narrating the infamous “Emerald City Sequence.”


Grade: B

Wicked Witch of the West (Evillene) – Mary J. Blige

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 11: Singer/songwriter Mary J. Blige attends Ferrari Celebrates 60 Years In America on October 11, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Ferrari North America)

I’ve already commented on the Queen of Hip Hop Soul’s vocals, so I won’t repeat that tirade here, but Evillene is arguably one of my favorite characters from The Wiz. “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News” is just a great moment in the film. As such. I need Mrs. Blige to not mess this up. Her raspy voice might be a good match for the tune; I just don’t want a repeat of her Nativity performance (or costuming).


Grade: C+

The Lion – David Alan Grier

david allen grier-the-wizI literally have never heard David Alan Grier sing, so I had to search YouTube for evidence. And as I expected there was little to nothing there, just song singing he’s done in his comedy over the years. So while I have no doubt that he’ll be able to pull of the over-the-top lion acting, I worry about how “I’m a Mean Ole Lion” will go over. Judging from the video below, it sounds like he has a bit of a voice on him. We’ll see if it ends up being enough.


Grade: B+

The Tin Man – Ne-Yo

NeyoI have no doubt that others would have been a better fit for this. There is a long line of R&B singers that would probably jump at the chance for this exposure (Usher or Jason Derulo maybe… hell even Omarion would have been better) . So throwing Ne-Yo’s questionable voice in the tin man suit feels… off. That being said, he is a good overall performer, more than capable of handling the dancing required for this.



Grade: B+

The Scarecrow – Elijah Kelley

ElijahKelleyI saw Bruno Mars as the perfect fit for this role, so the announcement that Elijah Kelly took it really came out of left field. But as I re-familiarized myself with his work, I came to realize that this could be a great fit. He can sing and dance, referenced by his work in Hairspray (which coincidentally also starred Queen Latifah), and he has a respectable resume, starring in The Butler and Red Tails (which coincidentally also starred Ne-Yo). And once I dug up the video below, I felt confident that he could put out a respectable “You Can’t Win.”


Grade: A-


Glinda the Good Witch – Uzo Aduba

The State of Blacks on Television Looks Good

Everybody knows Uzo Aduba from Orange Is The New Black, but she has a real background in theatre and even opera. So while nobody can ever beat Lena Horne is this role (her “If You Believe” will bring you to tears) and I would have loved to hear Jazmine Sullivan tear the house down, Aduba is sure to deliver an astounding vocal turn as Glinda. And casting a dark skinned woman for this role makes a strong statement.


Grade: A+

Addaperle, the Good Witch of the North – Amber Riley

Marie-Claire-Amber-Riley-1No lie, I totally envisioned Jill Scott murdering this. I just knew that Jilly from Philly would sign on, even without any sign if that being reality. But I am overjoyed that Amber Riley got the part because she is a star that just hasn’t truly gotten her chance to shine. On Glee she was relegated to secondary diva status. Her single “Colorblind” didn’t get the shine it deserved. And after she scorched the floor on Dancing with the Stars, she didn’t get the bump in fame that so many of the contestants get. But her brand of stank is perfect for “He’s The Wizard”.


Grade: A+

CommonThe Gatekeeper to Oz – Common

It is highly likely Common got this role because he and Queen Latifah almost always star in films together. It’s like that in Black Hollywood. But either way, this is kind of a plumb role in the production. He’ll get a nice dose of the spotlight when Dorothy and her crew arrive at The Emerald City, and if they are smart, they’ll use his casting as an opportunity to add some rap flair. I could see that going over okay… or terribly.



Grade: B-

Overall, I’m confident that this live performance of the The Wiz will shape up to be what we have all been waiting for. While a few casting choices aren’t my top picks, they should come together nicely on the whole.

The Wiz LIVE! is set to air Thursday, December 3rd (8/7c) on NBC.

How do you feel about the casting choices for The Wiz LIVE! from NBC? Give us your grades in the comments section below!

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Daren W. Jackson

Daren is one half of the Water Cooler Convos team. He's a writer, music connoisseur, and comic book geek who spends his free time working on his novel and other short stories.