Atlanta Life and Culture

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Director Kenny Leon promises magic in ‘Wiz’ revival for NBC, Broadway

Kenny Leon has directed live theater from Atlanta to Broadway and helmed TV episodes and movies too, but he’s never directed a live network TV show.

Still, the Atlanta-based, Tony-winning director sounded confident about the new challenge of staging the next live musical for NBC, “The Wiz,” on Dec. 3.

The network announced the live play on Monday, with Leon playing a key role in an intriguing creative team that will also ready the revival for a 2016-17 Broadway run.

“What I always remember is storytelling is storytelling,” Leon said. “People will always remember a good story told well, and the key is to always find the heart of the story. It’s not magical if it has no heart.”

Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein will contribute new material to the original Broadway book by William F. Brown and work alongside Leon and executive producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. Additionally, talent from production partner Cirque du Soleil will collaborate with Leon’s creative team to “realize some of the visual moments,” the director said.

Zadan and Meron also executive produced “The Sound of Music” in 2013 and “Peter Pan” in 2014 for NBC. Leon worked with the duo on a TV remake of “Steel Magnolias” as well as a TV adaption of “Raisin in the Sun.”

“The Wiz” is a retelling, in an African-American context, of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” with a book by William F. Brown and music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls. It began a four-year Broadway run in 1975, scoring seven Tonys, including best musical.

Leon, whose Atlanta-based troupe True Colors Theatre Company used to present “The Wiz” for the holidays, said the show is still relevant.

“ ‘The Wiz’ offers a new generation of viewers the opportunity to share this timeless tale of belonging,” he said. “I promise you it will be meaningful, inspired and magical.”

The 1978 film version of “The Wiz” starred Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Lena Horne and Richard Pryor.

Leon said he would cast actors, singers and dancers from the theater and pop music worlds.

In NBC’s announcement, network entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt said, “We love this yearly tradition and we’re more excited than ever to not only bring another Broadway musical to America’s living rooms, but also see it land on Broadway as well. It’s a natural next step for our live musical events, and we’re so pleased to be in business with this award-winning creative team.”

Leon’s last Broadway directing assignment was 2014’s “Holler If Ya Hear Me,” based on the music of the late Atlanta rapper Tupac Shakur.

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The AJC Features Team spotlights arts previews, reviews, profiles, news features and breaking news on Atlanta's cultural and life scene.