The Wiz Needed a Studio Audience
December 6, 2015 7:07 AM   Subscribe

"There's an intimacy to live performance that's removed through the medium of television, and in-studio audiences help restore it. After soaring, cathartic numbers, we need applause breaks. The collective gasp of appreciation when an impressive set piece dazzles, or the murmur of amazement when a section of choreography transfixes are parts of the lived language of musical theater. If you want to make a movie, make a movie. If you want to put on a show, don't play to an empty house."

THR: 'The Wiz' Producers on How the Oscars Turned NBC's Live Musical Into a Hit — and Why 'Peter Pan' Was a "Mistake": We grew up watching PBS and whenever they would do a musical, they did in them in a theater and shot them in a performance. It felt like a museum piece and they were shooting them so they could keep them on file. We didn't want to do anything that resembled PBS. We've done all these movie musicals — Chicago and Hairspray — and they don't have a live audience. If you came to the set, there is no possibility of a live audience.

Slate: The Wiz Live! Was So Good it Made NBC’s Other Live Musicals Look Like Dopey Dress Rehearsals

#representationmatters

HuffPo: Why The Wiz Live is Important: The Wiz Live on NBC showed audiences all over, particularly small black children, there are people who look just like them and have a Broadway-caliber talent - yes, folks black people can do Broadway too.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (38 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
i loved it so much! i disagree that it should have had a live audience. i think it worked well. after nbc fucks up again on grease i hope they come back to the wiz to see why it worked when their other efforts fall flat.
posted by nadawi at 7:15 AM on December 6, 2015


I believe Grease is a Fox production, though.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:16 AM on December 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


oh shit, you're totally right. i don't know why i thought it was nbc...well then, i hope nbc watches fox fuck up on grease, and learns the lessons from that and the wiz. heh.

fun little note about the ratings - while it didn't beat football, it did give the nfl some of the lowest ratings they've gotten all year in that time slot. i love that a show like this could pull people away from what was apparently a very interesting game.
posted by nadawi at 7:25 AM on December 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's a post on Fanfare.
posted by Small Dollar at 7:29 AM on December 6, 2015


Oh my god. More of this please.

Football being displaced by people of color regularly and unironically performing awesome musical comedies would pretty much be a best-case scenario for American popular culture (and is surely the fever-dream nightmare of a deranged right-wing pundit somewhere).
posted by schmod at 7:35 AM on December 6, 2015 [18 favorites]


We grew up watching PBS and whenever they would do a musical, they did in them in a theater and shot them in a performance. It felt like a museum piece and they were shooting them so they could keep them on file.

I believe this is right, and proper, and how theater should be filmed. I believe dynamic cameras and other trappings of late 20th century television are indecorous and distracting. I want to watch musicals from a fixed vantage point, as if I were sitting in a prime seat in the orchestra section.

But in this, as in so many other things, nobody listens to me.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:50 AM on December 6, 2015 [14 favorites]


Don't forget all the "what about the white people" outrage over the all black cast.

NOBODY TELL THESE PEOPLE THE NAME OF THE NEW ZEALAND RUGBY TEAM!
posted by Talez at 8:00 AM on December 6, 2015 [3 favorites]




Came for Amber Riley, stayed for the excellent cast/production, had no regret.

I do so miss Amber's singing. /former gleek
posted by fatehunter at 8:09 AM on December 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Faint of Butt: "I believe this is right, and proper, and how theater should be filmed. I believe dynamic cameras and other trappings of late 20th century television are indecorous and distracting. I want to watch musicals from a fixed vantage point, as if I were sitting in a prime seat in the orchestra section."

Yes, and no. I don't think that anybody has given this a go in the age of HD, but I really agree that it didn't work at all in SD. The "museum piece" analogy is apt, and I'd argue that the requirements of live theatre, filmed live theatre, filmed live TV, and scripted TV all require a dramatically skillset in terms of acting, stagecraft, and cinematography. There are only a handful of people who are good at all of them.

The Les Mis 25th Anniversary performance is probably my favorite example of filmed live theatre done really, really, really well. It's not a "pure" recording of the stage production, but preserves its essence really well.
posted by schmod at 8:10 AM on December 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Mrs C and I watched this broadcast. Yes it was pretty good but I do think it wasn't the great performance it could have been because of not having a live audience.

My gude wyffe has a live theatre background, and we actually met working together in community theatre. In a nutshell, the live audience is both an amplifier and a battery: once the audience is engaged they help propel the performance by amplifying the highs, and pumping energy back into the performance through the inevitable lulls.

An audience's imagination and enthusiasm turns flat sets into whatever you want, wire-work into people actually flying (though the Wiz's wire work was pretty damn good), makes a lame pun into a killing joke, you get the idea.

It doesn't have to always be just cameras set up in a conventional live theatre; I think if they'd done nothing else but provide for an audience for the Wiz, it would have turned 'very good" into unforgettable.

And it was good. More please.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:13 AM on December 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


I did not know I loved Ne-Yo but it turns out I love Ne-Yo and would like someone to cast him in a movie because he has a really riveting screen presence.

(Common, OTOH, whom I adore, was not so good.)

Another thing that made The Wiz great was the fantastic wacky costumes; my kids are a little young for following the plot of a musical but they were VERY INTRIGUED by the costumes and it kept catching their attention when a new character came on in new fantastic clothes.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:24 AM on December 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've been beating the it-needs-a-live-audience drum for the past three years now, and it's frustrating to read (in the second link) that the producers still don't get it.
posted by Shmuel510 at 8:33 AM on December 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


costumes done by paul tazewell, same guy who did hamilton's costumes!
posted by nadawi at 8:34 AM on December 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've only ever seen the PBS filming of Into the Woods - and fell in love with that musical from that filming. It wasn't static - there were close ups. But being able to see the original Broadway cast was a true privilege - and I'm never going to
see anything actually on Broadway, what with living in another country. I would care a lot more about the Tonys if I could watch more Broadway productions on television.
posted by jb at 8:42 AM on December 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


I thought it was super cute and that the costumes were amazing, but yes, I agree that there ought to have been a studio audience. I also am really, really on the fence about the actress playing Dorothy -- she had a very pretty voice, but something about her acting felt... Off.
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:11 AM on December 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I watched this, loved it, and felt the sudden urge to buy some metallic green lipstick. Queen Latifah, can you pull some strings at Cover Girl?
posted by sallybrown at 9:41 AM on December 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


I believe this is right, and proper, and how theater should be filmed. I believe dynamic cameras and other trappings of late 20th century television are indecorous and distracting. I want to watch musicals from a fixed vantage point, as if I were sitting in a prime seat in the orchestra section.

The Great Performances filmings of theater productions work pretty well and aren't at all static. Also the Met Live opera broadcasts and filmings are also quite well done. It's possible to film live theater and not have it be fixed camera shots.
posted by hippybear at 9:51 AM on December 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm curious to see how they film Hamilton (because it's been a whole, like, 4 days without a Hamilton thread, sorry). They obviously will, because it's so insanely popular, and they will probably just do a straightforward theater recording, but there are some interesting things they could do with a set and editing.

I skipped this because the Sound of Music was so painfully flat, but I might have to check it out seeing all these solid reviews. I loved The Wiz as a kid.
posted by lunasol at 10:25 AM on December 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would care a lot more about the Tonys if I could watch more Broadway productions on television.

I care about the Tonys because it's literally the only time I'm going to see any performances from most of those shows. Even if it's just one number, it's usually jaw-dropping and I love it.
posted by hippybear at 10:33 AM on December 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I hope that this tops the ratings if only for the inevitable NY Post headline: NOBODY BEATS THE WIZ
posted by dr_dank at 12:44 PM on December 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


roomthreeseventeen: “'There's an intimacy to live performance that's removed through the medium of television, and in-studio audiences help restore it. After soaring, cathartic numbers, we need applause breaks.'”
I hear what they're saying regarding having a live audience. I'm not sure I agree, but not because of wanting to hear the audience's reaction but rather because the performers couldn't feed on the energy of the crowd. (Although there was one instance where I felt like a joke didn't land precisely because there was no one to laugh at it.)

All in all I thought it was great, and I was glad I watched it. Then again, I liked the past shows well enough too. No matter what, as somebody said on Twitter after the last two shows, "That's three hours of live musical theater on national television. That's a win."
posted by ob1quixote at 3:04 PM on December 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Finally found it from last year anyway. The somebody was John Johnson.
“Tweeted it last year, gonna do the same again this year:

That's 3 hours of Live Musical Theatre on Primetime Network TV.

That's a win.”— John Johnson (@jfj4) December 5, 2014
posted by ob1quixote at 3:40 PM on December 6, 2015


Live theater with an audience can work very well on television. Back in 1981, an adaptation of PURLIE!, starring Robert Guillaume, Sherman Hemsley, Linda Hopkins and Melba Moore did very well, winning a CableAce Award.
posted by Quasimike at 4:25 PM on December 6, 2015


there's a lot of full tony awards on youtube, if you're the kind of person who would want to flip through that. speaking of hamilton, and how the tony awards let you experience live theater from home - a few years back lin-manuel miranda (and tommy kail) wrote the closing number during the show and then neil patrick harris performed it (lin-manuel also wrote the 2013 opening number for nph - perhaps the best tony awards opener of all time OF ALL TIME).
posted by nadawi at 4:56 PM on December 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


I liked it. Didn't expect a musical number about the laws of thermodynamics!
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:50 PM on December 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Loved this. Still watching it at our house, since my 3-year old has taken to it. The more I see, the more I enjoy! Great cast, great message, a ray of sunshine in a dark month.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:53 PM on December 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


What we didn't know about Peter Pan — and there was no way to know this — was that Peter Pan, as a piece, has overstayed its welcome. What we discovered, too late of course, is that people aren't interested in Peter Pan.

I think that's bull. Nobody liked Peter Pan Live! because it was bad- bloated and heavy. The next day I watched the Mary Martin production on YouTube and it still kicks ass.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:03 PM on December 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


I did mean to say the one thing that bothered me greatly were the sudden cuts to commercial. It was especially egregious at the end. Williams absolutely nails “Home,” the camera pulls back to reveal we're back in Kansas, Aunt Em rushes in to hug Dorthy… and crash to Dennis Leary shouting at me to buy a pick-up truck or whatever.
posted by ob1quixote at 7:09 PM on December 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


i haaaaaated the commercials and in a couple weeks i plan to download it so i can watch it as an uninterrupted piece. i would love if they could find a sponsor who would let them play it through (or mostly through). i'd even be fine with an entire cast commercial plug (separate from the show) in the middle.
posted by nadawi at 7:16 PM on December 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


omg the 2013 Tony opening number is 10 minutes of pure joy
posted by Hermione Granger at 7:20 PM on December 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


(lin-manuel also wrote the 2013 opening number for nph - perhaps the best tony awards opener of all time OF ALL TIME).

nadawi, that's amazing. It's the only Tony Awards show I've ever watched live on TV and I was completely awe-struck and gob-smacked by it. So of course Lin-Manuel wrote it! Man, the man is non-stop.
posted by lunasol at 8:32 PM on December 6, 2015


Football being displaced by people of color regularly and unironically performing awesome musical comedies would pretty much be a best-case scenario for American popular culture (and is surely the fever-dream nightmare of a deranged right-wing pundit somewhere).

You realize that football games have more people of color than almost anything else on television, right? Which is probably one of the reasons for their success.

I'm curious why you consider this "a best-case scenario for American popular culture," since there are so many different possible scenarios. Singing and dancing people of color were common during some very racist periods of American history, and I think many "deranged right-pundits" would be very comfortable with that.
posted by msalt at 9:06 PM on December 6, 2015


[Quick note: This is a good post and a great place to talk about "The Wiz," and in fact the only thread we've had for it... as opposed to hundreds and hundreds of threads about football (or topics about racism vis-à-vis what sort of thoughts the very worst people have). It would be excellent for people to stick to discussing The Wiz, specifically, here. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 11:15 PM on December 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


and in fact the only thread we've had for it...

Aw, Fanfare is like the Rodney Dangerfield of subsites. Et tu, mod note?
posted by oh yeah! at 5:15 AM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's the only Tony Awards show I've ever watched live on TV and I was completely awe-struck and gob-smacked by it. So of course Lin-Manuel wrote it! Man, the man is non-stop.

He writes like he's running out of time.

I continue to just not understand the appeal of putting things live on tv without a studio audience. I cannot for the life of me figure out an appeal beyond "maybe something will go horribly wrong." At least with something like this I can see why creators feel like there's something in the piece's DNA that demands it, but we get these various tv shows like ER (and there was a more recent example, maybe "Chicago [publicservice]" but I can't recall) who feel like they need to do this because... something?
posted by phearlez at 12:03 PM on December 7, 2015


Was it just me or was the lighting on this production terrible? The bit I saw seemed like they shot it with all the lights on instead of dramatic stage lighting. Like it was done in an office cafeteria. Combined with the HD hyper detail and lack of an audience I felt like I was watching some friends LARPing the Wizard of Oz in my living room or something.
posted by delicious-luncheon at 5:18 PM on December 7, 2015


>>I continue to just not understand the appeal of putting things live on tv without a studio audience.

I assume two things:
1) it's one of the few things TV can do that YouTube, etc. can't do well. (as much about assembling a live audience and a well known place for it tog go, as actually being live)
2) a return to the fabled era of pioneering 1950s TV, which featured live plays and other live shows IIRC. Even late night shows pretend they're live, though they aren't other than SNL from what I know.

But I have no idea if there were studio audiences for Playhouse 54, Your Show of Shows, etc. or not. Anybody? Even if both were true, no reason you couldn't have a live audience.

Undateable being filmed live (twice each air night) is interesting, too.
posted by msalt at 9:43 PM on December 7, 2015


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