“I’ve always been told that my heart is bigger than the rest of my body,” reveals Ne-Yo in our recent webcam chat (see above) as we spoke about his being cast as the Tin Man in “The Wiz: Live.” As he explains, “I think the oxymoron of the Tin Man is that he doesn’t have a heart, and yet he’s the most heartfelt character in the situation. So for me, it was honestly just as easy as being true to self, being who I am as far as the feel of him, but then adding the accent and the other accessories.”
He certainly had some big metal shoes to fill. “The Wiz,’ which is based on L. Frank Baum’s classic novel, won the Tony for Best Musical in 1975 and was adapted into a 1978 film in which comedian Nipsey Russell played the part. Ne-Yo knew Russell would be a tough act to follow, admitting, “What he brought to the character was an energy only he could bring, so I wasn’t about trying to emulate that. It was absolutely about making it my own, trying to figure out who the Tin Man is in 2016, versus the ‘70s when Nipsey did it.”
“We wanted to make sure this Tin Man was definitely a man’s man,” he admits. “I feel what it means to be a man’s man is to not shy away from emotion, or even deny emotion, but understand that the power comes from you being able to control your emotions, as opposed to letting your emotions control you.”
He was certainly aided by a top-notch team of makeup artists who, for the live television production, “took a three-hour process and turned it into a thirty minute process.” The metal costume, he recalls, “was just as clunky and heavy as it looked.” The suit was so heavy and hot, in fact, that it required a special undershirt with inner-woven tubes pumping ice water to cool the actor’s core. “Without these shirts,” he divulges, “somebody would’ve passed out.”
The Grammy award-winning artist also composed an original song, “We Got It,” which he belted out with Dorothy (Shanice Williams), the Scarecrow (Elijah Kelly) and the Cowardly Lion (David Alan Grier) at the end of Act One. “The one thing you don’t want to do is take this opportunity and not do anything with it,” he admits. “You kind of just had to take away the fact that you were writing for something as big as ‘The Wiz.’ He collaborated with co-star Kelly and jazz drummer Harvey Mason on the new number.
Ne-Yo had high praise for the cast and crew. “Everybody knew that we had to be perfect, that there was no other option, and everybody literally worked their asses off to make sure that everything was as perfect as humanly possible, mainly in just wanting to honor what ‘The Wiz’ meant to us.” He continues, “There were tears in some instances, but it was all for the good of making sure it was as amazing as humanly possible, and I think we pulled it off.”