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Ne-Yo & Elijah Kelley Dish on the New Song in Tonight's THE WIZ LIVE!: 'It's Bigger Than Just a Song'


The big day is her! THE WIZ LIVE! airs tonight, December 3, at 8PM/7c. The production will star newcomer Shanice Williams as Dorothy alongside Grammy and Golden Globe-winner Queen Latifah as the Wizard, nine-time Grammy-winner Mary J. Blige as Evillene, original Dorothy, Stephanie Mills, as Auntie Em and David Alan Grier as the Cowardly Lion.

THE WIZ LIVE! is adapted from "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank Baum, with a book by William F. Brown, and music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls. The production opened on Broadway in 1975 at the Majestic Theatre, starring Mills. It won seven Tonys, including best musical. As previously announced, Mills is set to return to the show on NBC, this time in the role of 'Auntie Em'.

BroadwayWorld was on set earlier this month as the company was readying for the big night and we checked in with Ne-Yo, Elijah Kelley, David Alan Grier (who play the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion respectively) to find out how rehearsals have been going so far. Check out the full interview below!

David, did you have to whip these young men into shape?

D: No, I'm trying to keep up!

How is it going?

D: I'm embarrassed to admit, but I was talking to one of the dancers, and like a month in advance I was packing my clothes, and she said she did the same thing. It's a kid-like kind of enthusiasm. I can't wait to get to work; I love being in a room with these gentlemen. I'm impressed by the humbleness you need for a project like this to be a success. Ne-Yo, Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah all have this success, but we come into the room, listen to Kenny, and work together.

E: Learning from David is incredible. I'm going to say the BS stuff because you're right here. [Laughs] No, but learning from him is incredible. As much as he says they come in with humble spirits, he's been in this game for so long. It's amazing. It's really genuinely a family. We'll hang out outside of work; we talk outside of work. It's not like everyone's going to their trailers when things shut down. We love being around each other.

N: I'm learning from everybody. This is my first time doing anything in theatre. I walked in with no real expectations because I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what I was walking into.

The first time you saw yourself made up in your costumes and makeup, what did you think?

D: I didn't see me. There's an excitement and a challenge to that. You don't see me; now I can create from scratch.

E: Absolutely. Kenny allows us to take liberties with our characters to get into it. Once the costume was on, it was so natural. It was like a tailored suit; once you put it on you know how to walk in it. We meshed into the character. There is no separation of the two once we're in [costume].

N: Kenny's guidance helps you get into who the character is. He'll just out of the blue go, "How old is your character?" He helps you create this other person so when you put on that costume you don't see yourself you see the character. You become the character. I didn't have that before this. Kenny will ask, "Why is this happening?" He breaks down the layers of why things are happening and makes it that much easier for you to become as opposed to acting.

D: We've been doing commercials, and promos, and photo shoots, which require a full day in these costumes and makeup. It is also subversively a day of rehearsal because we are acclimating. By the time December 3rd comes around, we'll be ready.

Everyone's been talking about how modern this version is. What is your favorite modern spin in this adaptation?

N: I can't speak on a specific part. It is kind of woven through the whole thing. It's not based in the 70s; it's based in 2015. It's everything you know and love about The Wiz just kicked up to now. From the choreography to the technology to the lingo, it is brought up to now but not in a way that takes away from what was. We brought it to where this generation can watch it and relate.

E: It still has to be classic. There is no novelty in it.

Talk about the new song!

E: Kenny said basically there isn't a song that got the four friends together to say: "If something goes down I've got you." It's a moment for Dorothy to say, "Look inside yourself and whatever you need is right here already." Ne-Yo did an incredible job with the lyrics. I did the music. Ne-Yo is a genius to be able to verbalize that in a very specific way. I think when the world hears it, it'll become bigger than just a song. It's moment in time in a legendary production that we're blessed to be a part of.

N: I'm honored to say I've done something for The Wiz. I grew up with The Wiz. I think I was 9 years old when I first saw it. For me, to have a song in this iconic show, that's an honor beyond words. I had to take off the concept of writing for The Wiz because you put yourself in this place where nothing is good enough. It's been an amazing ride for me to see where the song started and where it is now. It's not even a song anymore; it's a moment.

Craig Zadan and Neil Meron ("The Sound of Music Live!," "Peter Pan Live!") serve as executive producers. Tony winner Kenny Leon will direct with Harvey Fiersteinproviding new written material. Fatima Robinson serves as choreographer. THE WIZ LIVE! is produced by Universal Television in association with Cirque Du Soleil Theatrical.

THE WIZ tells the classic story hundreds of millions of people have read in the L. Frank Baum books and then saw in the much-beloved 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz," but retold in an African-American/multicultural context. Dorothy, a young woman from Kansas, is swept up in a tornado and relocated to a fantasy world that is inhabited by munchkins, good and bad witches, and, of course, flying monkeys. She eventually takes a path down a yellow brick road to find a wizard who can help her go home and along the way meets a scarecrow, tin man and cowardly lion, who all learn to help one another.

Photo Credit: Virginia Sherwood/NBC

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