NBC has signed two big stars for The Wiz: Queen Latifah and Mary J. Blige have joined the network’s latest live musical adaptation. EW has exclusively learned Latifah will play the titular Wiz, who holds the keys to the Emerald City, while Blige is set to play the Wicked Witch of the West.
Latifah’s musical past includes starring in 2002’s Chicago, for which she was nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category at the Academy Awards, and 2007’s Hairspray. Blige has nine Grammy awards under her belt, and featured in the movie musical Rock of Ages. They’ll star in The Wiz alongside previously announced cast member Stephanie Mills, who’s playing Auntie Em.
The Wiz Live! is executive produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron — who also made NBC’s previously high-wire musical telecasts, 2013’s The Sound of Music Live! and last year’s Peter Pan Live!
The Wiz Live! is directed by Kenny Leon with Harvey Fierstein providing new written material, and it also marks the first NBC musical to made with Cirque Du Soleil, whose acrobats will be used in certain scenes (such as the tornado and flying monkeys).
In addition to Chicago, Latifah co-starred in Hairspray and the TV film Steel Magnolias — all of which were executive produced by Zadan and Meron. “We are so happy reuniting with Latifah,” said Zadan and Meron. “We’ve been friends for a long time and we’ve had quite a lot of success together. To see her play the iconic role of the Wiz and make it her own is going to be one of the joys of producing this event.”
As The Wiz, Latifah plays “the mysterious and powerful wizard who holds the keys to the Emerald City, but whose metamorphosis from ordinary to extraordinary is itself a hoax. She rose to her lofty position after being transported by accident to Oz in a hot air balloon during a snowstorm.”
Blige’s Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West, “holds sway over the Winkies and the Winged Monkeys that do her bidding. She captures Dorothy and her friends to avenge the unintentional murder of her evil sister, Evvamean, and to get back the powerful silver slippers given to Dorothy by the Good Witch of the North.”
The Grammy-winning Blige began her career on The Jamie Foxx Show and has been featured on shows like Entourage and most recently Empire and Blackish. “I can’t wait to watch Mary bring the badness that is Evillene,” said Leon. “Her talent range is off the charts and I know audiences won’t be able to take their eyes off her.”
As for the key role of Dorothy, NBC’s search continues for a newcomer to play the character.
The Wiz premieres Thursday, Dec. 3 on NBC.