Frank Baum [author of book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz] would never recognize his simple little story in this fantastically blown-up version [of William F. Brown’s play, with music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls], but the heart of his tale – that a person must find what he’s searching for within himself – is still there.
The cast is virtually flawless but, when all is said and done, it’s the combination of Oswald Morris’s cinematography, the special visual effects of Albert Whitlock and Tony Walton’s production design and costumes that linger longest in the memory.
Director Sidney Lumet has created what amounts to a love letter to the city of New York, which he equates with Oz.
Diana Ross, believable as a 24-year-old Harlem school teacher, is always in key with the mood, whether it calls for shyness, gaiety, courage or simply cutting up. Vocally, she’s superb but, surprise, she also dances with all the abandon of an Alvin Ailey protege.
Of the supporting players and, despite their billing, that’s what they amount to – Richard Pryor’s Wiz (very briefly seen), Ted Ross’s Lion and Mabel King’s Evillene make the heaviest impressions. Nipsey Russell is fun as the Tin Man but Michael Jackson, though vocally great, needs more acting exposure.
1978: Nominations: Best Cinematography, Costume Design, Art Direction, Adapted Score