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NBC will ease on down the road with live production of 'The Wiz'

by jmaloni

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Tue, Mar 31st 2015 01:40 pm

Featuring production partner Cirque Du Soleil Theatrical

NBC will debut a new live television production of the hit Broadway musical "The Wiz" Thursday, Dec. 3, it was announced Monday by Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment.

Entering into a unique partnership with NBC on "The Wiz - to be executive produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron - is Cirque du Soleil, whose new stage theatrical division will co-produce the live TV event and then present it as a major Broadway revival for the 2016-17 season.

Tony Award-winning director Kenny Leon will stage both the television production and Broadway revival of "The Wiz" in collaboration with Tony winner and Broadway icon Harvey Fierstein, who will contribute new material to the original Broadway book by William F. Brown.

"We love this yearly tradition, and we're more excited than ever to not only bring another Broadway musical to America's living rooms, but also see it land on Broadway as well," Greenblatt said. "It's a natural next step for our live musical events and we're so pleased to be in business with this award-winning creative team, and Scott Zeiger, president and managing director of Cirque du Soleil's new theatrical division. Cirque's incredible imagination will help bring the fantasy world of 'Oz' vividly to life and give this great show a modern spin on the age-old story we all love."

"We are delighted that NBC and Cirque du Soleil will present 'The Wiz,' " Zeiger said. "It's a musical I have wanted to produce for years, and it's the perfect show to present under the new Cirque du Soleil Theatrical banner."

"We're thrilled to have the opportunity to not only produce this as our next live musical for NBC, but to then see it move to Broadway for a new generation to experience," Zadan said. 

"It will be a joy to work again with Kenny Leon, who did 'Steel Magnolias' and 'Raisin in the Sun' with us," Meron added.

Universal Television will produce. Casting for both the NBC telecast and Cirque du Soleil's Broadway production will be announced at a later date.

"The Wiz" is adapted from "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank Baum, with a book by William F. Brown, and music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls. The production opened on Broadway in 1975 at the Majestic Theatre and won seven Tonys, including best musical.

The musical ran for four years on Broadway. Newsweek critic Jack Kroll called it "one of the most cyclonic blasts of high energy to hit Broadway in a long time ... blazing high spirits, piping hot servings of soul and sly sagacity about the pleasures and perils of fantasy."

"The Wiz" tells the classic story hundreds of millions of people have read in the L. Frank Baum books and then saw in the much-beloved 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz," but retold in an African-American/multicultural context. Dorothy, a young woman from Kansas, is swept up in a tornado and relocated to a fantasy world that is inhabited by munchkins, good and bad witches, and, of course, flying monkeys. She eventually takes a path down a yellow brick road to find a wizard who can help her go home and along the way meets a scarecrow, tin man and cowardly lion, who all learn to help one another.

Zadan and Meron produced NBC's two previous live holiday musicals: "The Sound of Music Live!" and "Peter Pan Live!" Most recently, the pair produced the 87th Academy Awards telecast, their third consecutive Oscars. In addition to Emmy Award nominations for "The Sound of Music Live!" and the Oscars, Zadan and Meron have been nominated for TV works that include "Gypsy," "Cinderella," "Annie," "The Beach Boys: An American Family" and "A Raisin in the Sun." Zadan and Meron were Tony nominated in 2011 for their Broadway revival of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." On the big screen, they are the producers of the Oscar-winning "Chicago" and "Hairspray."

Tony winner and DGA nominee Leon will direct "The Wiz." In 2014, Leon won a Tony for helming the play "A Raisin in the Sun" and was nominated in 2010 for the Broadway production of "Fences." His 2009 DGA nomination was for the television adaptation of "A Raisin in the Sun." Other small-screen credits include TV movies "Steel Magnolias" "In My Dreams" and "The Watsons Go to Birmingham," as well as television shows such as "Ghost Whisperer" and "Private Practice."

Fierstein will contribute new material to the original book of "The Wiz." As a writer, he won Tonys for "La Cage Aux Folles" and "Torch Song Trilogy," and he has written the books for other musical hits such as "Kinky Boots" and "Newsies."

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