BLACK VOICES

'The Wiz Live!' Director On Why He Cast A Woman For The Title Role

It's truly a "Brand New Day."

After months of anticipation, NBC’s live musical event “The Wiz Live!” is set to make its debut on Thursday.

Directed by Tony Award-winning director, Kenny Leon, the three-hour musical special will feature an all-star cast starring Queen Latifah as the Wiz, Mary J. Blige as Evillene, David Alan Grier as the Cowardly Lion, Ne-Yo as Tin Man, Elijah Kelley as Scarecrow, Amber Riley as Good Witch of the North, Stephanie Mills as Auntie Em, Uzo Aduba as Glinda the Good, Common as Gatekeeper and Shanice Williams as Dorothy.

In addition to the event incorporating modern dance moves -- such as “the Nae Nae” -- Leon decided to break tradition by having Latifah portray the title role, which was previously played by Richard Pryor in the 1978 film, Andre De Shields in the 1975 Broadway production and Frank Morgan in the 1939 film ”Wizard of Oz.”

"I wasn't thinking about gender," Leon told “Today” during a recent set visit. “I thought the Wiz can be anything, anyone and the first name out of my mouth was Queen Latifah. There was no other name."

Preparing for the coveted project also came with certain standards, according to Leon, and he made a decision to implement disciplinary actions for tardiness during rehearsals.

"If anyone was 30 seconds or one minute late for rehearsals, everyone had to do 10 push-ups," he said. "It builds a sense of unity and everyone was late at least once, so you could come into rehearsals one day and see Queen Latifah on the floor doing push-ups."

The special will mark the third installment in the network’s franchise of live musical events. The television production will then be followed with a 2016-2017 Broadway revival of the musical.

“The Wiz Live!" airs on NBC on Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. EST.

Also on HuffPost:

PHOTO GALLERY
African-American Stars On Broadway
CONVERSATIONS