Grammy Award winning singer and songwriter Ne-Yo knows a lot about gold and platinum, but on December 3rd he will make a less than precious metal shine just as bright. Ne-Yo will join an all-star cast in NBC’s broadcast of “The Wiz Live,” the latest re-imagining of the Tony Award winning Broadway play based on the classic 1900 children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of OZ. Ne-Yo will be displaying his singing and acting chops as the Tin Man and is joined by Elijah Kelley as the Scarecrow, Mary J. Blige as Evillene, David Alan Grier as the Cowardly Lion, newcomer Shanice Williams as Dorothy and Queen Latifah as the all powerful Wiz. Stephanie Mills, best known for playing Dorothy in the original Broadway production of “The Wiz,” in 1974 will portray Aunt Em.
“I grew up with ‘The Wiz.’ I recall watching it when I was really, really young,” says Ne-Yo, who shares (somewhat predictably) that the Scarecrow was his favorite character because of the late Michael Jackson. “So when I heard they were remaking it, they could have made me one of the munchkins, I needed to be a part of this in some way, shape, form or fashion.”
Ne-Yo fills the shoes of the legendary Nipsey Russell, who played the Tin Man in the theatrical production of The Wiz in 1978.
“We were just trying to figure out who the Tin man would be in 2015,” he says. “He wouldn’t be a woodsman, he would maybe be a construction worker. We discussed what his persona would be, his passion is and motivation to do what he’s doing is. And I feel like with the change of the times it would be slightly different from what Nipsey Russell did.”
In addition to rounding out the traveling quartet in search of heart, brains, courage and a way home, Ne-Yo contributed an original song to the musical—cowritten with Elijah Kelley—called “We Got It.”
“There is a part in the story where the four friends find out that in order to get their wish granted by The Wiz, they have to kill the wicked witch of the west. So it’s kind of that moment of we finally get here, we’ve done so much to meet The Wiz and our dreams are right there, and the only thing in the way is this literally impossible feat. And [Director Kenny Leon] said there was never a song that spoke to that moment and there should have been. And that’s when he told us about writing a song and what it had to be.”
Elijah admits that he had way more anxiety having to tackle the classic, rousing “Brand New Day” than creating something new for this production, and has wanted to work with Ne-Yo on music for some time.
“I came to the table reading 30 minutes early, which pretty much never happens,” says the actor and singer who worked with Ne-Yo on the film Red Tails. “They were sitting there talking about it and said we’ll all write the song right here. I went to the studio the next day, sat down at the piano and played the chords. Harvey put drums on it, sent it to Ne-Yo and Ne-Yo sent lyrics back in like a night.”
“In order for me to do this song I had to not factor in that I was writing for The Wiz,” Ne-Yo adds. “Nothing you do is good enough for that. Let me just read the notes and do what’s being asked of me and the song came out amazing.”
Tune into NBC on December third to hear “We Got It” along with “Ease on Down The Road,” “No Bad News” and many more classics from “The Wiz” in “The Wiz Live!”