All Articles
January 15, 2024

Ease on Down the Road: 10 Fun Facts about The Wiz!


A soulful and funktastic reimagining of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the hit musical The Wiz (US/UK) took Broadway by storm in 1975, and the show has remained a beloved fan favorite ever since. Adapted into a 1978 film and a live 2015 telecast, The Wiz is returning to Broadway this spring in a glorious new production. To celebrate the show’s triumphant revival, here are 10 Fun Facts about The Wiz!

1. The original Broadway production of The Wiz was subtitled “The Super Soul Musical Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

2. In addition to its all-new score, the show includes many elements from Baum’s book that were not part of the 1939 MGM film adaptation, later adapted into the stage musical The Wizard of Oz (RSC Version) (US/UK). For example, The Wiz features The Witch of the North (here called Addaperle), the Field Mice, and the monstrous beasts known as Kalidahs.

3. In its tryouts in Detroit and Philadelphia, the 1974 Broadway-bound production of The Wiz struggled to find an audience. That all changed when the producers created a TV commercial featuring the song “Ease on Down the Road.” The ad – the second ever for a Broadway musical – led to an explosion of ticket sales, making the show a hit.

4. Finishing the score took three years. “I’d start to work at 11:30 at night, when everyone else went to bed,” composer Charlie Smalls told The Los Angeles Times. Smalls referred to the show’s unique musical style as “sophisticated funk.”

5. Stephanie Mills, who originated the role of Dorothy, was just 17 years old when the Broadway production opened at the Majestic Theatre on January 5, 1975. Though she was initially hesitant to audition, her mother persuaded her to try out. “That experience ended up changing my life,” she said.

6. The show cleaned up at the Tony Awards! The Wiz won seven Tonys: Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design and Best Choreography, along with acting awards for Ted Ross (The Lion) and Dee Dee Bridgewater (Glinda).

7. The original Broadway cast featured several future stars, including André de Shields (The Wiz), who won a 2019 Tony Award for playing Hermes in Hadestown (US/UK), Stephanie Mills (Dorothy) whose career as a pop singer included the hit single “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” Ted Ross (The Lion), whose film credits included Arthur and Police Academy, Mabel King (Evillene) who starred on the sitcom What’s Happening!!, and Phylicia Ayers-Allen (Ensemble), who changed her professional name to Phylicia Rashad, co-starred for eight seasons on The Cosby Show, and won two Tony Awards, including Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play for Skeleton Crew (US/UK) in 2022.

8. In 1978, Universal Pictures and Motown released a film adaptation of The Wiz. Originally, Stephanie Mills was expected to star as Dorothy. Diana Ross was interested in the role, but the original producers at Motown felt she was too old for the part. Ultimately, she persuaded Universal Pictures to make the film with her in the lead. Thirty-seven years later, Stephanie Mills was the first person cast in The Wiz Live! (in the role of Auntie Em).

9. The show’s finale, “Home,” has become one of the most popular songs in the American pop music canon. Originally released on the cast recording and as a single by Stephanie Mills, the song has since been performed by stars including by Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand, Gladys Knight, Andrea McArdle, Kristin Chenoweth (on Glee), MJ Rodriguez and Billy Porter (on Pose) and Brandi Carlisle (over the credits of Ted Lasso).

10. The 2024 Broadway production of The Wiz, directed by Schele Williams, features the original material by Charlie Smalls and William F. Brown, a reworked book by Amber Ruffin, and a set design by Hannah Beachler, whose Afrofuturist design for Black Panther earned her the 2019 Academy Award for Best Achievement in Production Design.

To learn more about licensing a production of The Wiz, visit Concord Theatricals in the US or UK.

Header Image: 2023 US National Tour production of The Wiz (Jeremy Daniel)