Cast of The Wiz in the 1978 film: Ted Ross, as the Cowardly Lion, Diana Ross as Dorothy, Nipsey Russel as the Tin Man, Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow and Richard Pryor as the Wiz
IMDb

The Wiz Live! airs on NBC on Thursday with a star-studded lineup certain to have you ready to take a trip down the yellow brick road. The Broadway musical-turned-movie-turned-live TV musical features a newcomer as Dorothy (Shanice Williams), a Wiz vet as Aunt Em (Stephanie Mills, who played Dorothy in the 1975 Broadway musical), and several of your favorite R&B singers and big-name actors.

As we look forward to these marquee names hitting the stage, take a look at a few interesting facts that you may not have known about its debut on the Great White Way and its storied Motown-produced theatrical run in 1978.

Advertisement

1. Berry Gordy and Motown Productions bought the rights to the musical so it could be made into a film.

2. Stephanie Mills, who was also signed to Motown Records, was a favorite to reprise her Broadway role of Dorothy in the 1978 film. But Diana Ross reportedly lobbied Gordy and producers to land the iconic role. The original director, John Badham (Saturday Night Fever), withdrew once Ross was cast.

Advertisement

3. Ross was 33 when The Wiz was filmed, two decades older than 14-year-old Dorothy. So the writers changed her from a teen to a 24-year-old kindergarten teacher.

4. Director Sidney Lumet stepped in for Badham. At the time, Lumet was married to Gail Lumet Buckley, Lena Horne’s (Glinda the Good Witch) daughter.

5. Jimmie Walker was Lumet’s first choice to play the Scarecrow. But producer Rob Cohen wanted a singer for the role and convinced Lumet to cast Michael Jackson.

6. Ben Vereen was supposed to play the Tin Man and was replaced at the last minute by Nipsey Russell. Vereen did, however, get to play the role of the Wizard in the Broadway musical Wicked in 2005.

7. Ted Ross (the Cowardly Lion) and Mabel King (Evillene) were the only two stars to reprise their Broadway roles in the 1978 film. 

Advertisement

8. She was uncredited in the film, but Robin Givens was a guest at Aunt Em’s party. It was her first on-screen role. 

9. Did Dorothy live in Harlem or Brooklyn? She says her address is 433 Prospect Place, which is in Brooklyn. But in the film, Aunt Em says Dorothy has never been below 125th Street in Harlem.

10. Several landmarks in New York City are the backdrop of the film. The Tin Man joined the crew in Coney Island. The Hoyt-Schermerhorn subway station is the setting for the scene where the puppets come to life. The World Trade Center was the home to Emerald City. What used to be Shea Stadium is where the cast was chased by monkeys on bicycles.

11. Michael Jackson won an NAACP Image Award for best actor in The Wiz. The film won the award for best picture.

Advertisement

12. Coming in at a whopping $24 million, it was the most expensive musical to be produced at the time. The film only brought in $13 million.

Erin E. Evans is a writer and editor in Brooklyn, N.Y. Follow her on Twitter.