Originally published on CastAlbums.org.
It makes sense that The Wiz Live!, the best of NBC’s recent live musical broadcasts, should produce the best album of the three as well. Even so, you might be surprised by just how good this soundtrack is. As exciting as the live show was, there were some iffy notes and more than a few moments of sub-par sound mixing. None of that is in evidence on the album. Superstar producer Harvey Mason, Jr. and co-producer/music director Stephen Oremus have lovingly spun the raw material from the broadcast into recording gold. And despite the addition of effects (most obviously a lot of additional reverb and yes, some auto-tuning) to create a sonic experience more akin to a studio-recorded pop album, The Wiz Live! never sounds overproduced and, oddly enough, comes out more theatrical than the self-consciously pop original cast recording.
The cast was just about as perfectly selected as could be, from original Dorothy Stephanie Mills stepping into the role of Aunt Em to newcomer Shanice Williams filling her magical shoes. Even those cast members whose performances didn’t quite thrill me on television come off exceedingly well on the soundtrack, which has eradicated the missed notes and corrected some challenging sound balance issues. To my ears,Queen Latifah‘s performance most benefits from the post-production process, recovering the thrilling energy of the wizard’s material that seemed missing from the broadcast.
The score has been given a refresh for 2015, but the contemporizing touch is surprisingly light. While most of the original disco rhythms have given way to hip-hop beats, this is hardly Kanye territory. (Hell, it’s hardly Hamilton territory.) The new arrangements by Oremus and Mason are top notch, and the outstanding horn charts by superstar arranger Jerry Hey deserve an entire laudatory essay unto themselves. And despite the complete absence of dialog and the radio-ready sound of much of the album (particularly the newly penned “We Got It”), the drama of the story shines through.
Fans of the original may lament the shortened “Tornado” or the excision of “I Was Born on the Day Before Yesterday” (replaced, as it was in the 1978 film, with “You Can’t Win”), “Who Do You Think You Are,” “A Rested Body is A Rested Mind,” and the “Funky Monkey” ballet, as well as the omission of the reprises of “Ease on Down the Road” and the Wiz’s rendition of “Believe In Yourself.” But no one expected this to be a museum-quality restoration of the score as heard on Broadway in 1975. Given the pop nature of the original cast album, though, there’s certainly room for such a restoration should some enterprising record producer want to give it a shot.
The album package (designed by Van Dean) is bursting at the seams with photos, lyrics, a plot summary, and an essay by cultural critic Felicia R. Lee.