“I really didn’t know what to expect,” admits Shanice Williams as we chat via webcam (watch above). about making her television debut as Dorothy in NBC’s acclaimed production of “The Wiz: Live” last fall. Like something out of a fairy tale, the novice actress beat out 1,000 girls to land the role in this live television adaptation of the Broadway classic. “The audition process was crazy,” she recalls. “When I finally got into the room, I thought, ‘There’s no way that this could really happen.’ My mind was so far from thinking that I could actually get the part that I just had fun, and I did my best.”
She certainly had some big ruby slippers to fill. Inspired by L. Frank Baum’s classic novel, “The Wiz” won the Tony in 1975 for Best Musical before being adapted into a 1978 film starring Diana Ross as Dorothy. “Believe it or not,” Williams says, “it was really easy to get into the role of Dorothy. I understood her completely. I had moved to Los Angeles a little while before I got the part, and I knew what it was like to miss home. That was one of the aspects that really helped me get into the character.”
And, as she reveals, “I knew what it was like to not really fit in, to not know where you belong. I just took my life and I said, ‘How would she deal with these things that she’s going through now? How have you dealt with those things?’ And so I felt like this was the perfect role for me.”
Williams had great guidance from Stephanie Mills, who originated the role on stage and played Auntie Em in this version. “She’d just give me little tips every now and then about just being myself, just being comfortable, about how to hold my notes and do everything right.” And she credits the support from the rest of cast, which included Elijah Kelly as the Scarecrow, Ne-Yo as the Tin Man, and David Alan Grier as the Cowardly Lion. “They welcomed me in,” she says. “If I needed help on something, they were there.”
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