The Wiz was mounted by the highly respected director Sidney Lumet. Sidney Lumet certainly has an impressive resume and has been responsible for a number of classic films such as 12 Angry Men (1957), Long Days Journey Into Night (1962), Serpico (1973), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976), and the odd genre foray such as the stark nuclear drama Fail-Safe (1964), the Catholic boys boarding school psycho-thriller Childs Play (1972) and the whodunnit parody Deathtrap (1982). On the script was a novice Joel Schumacher. At this point, Joel Schumacher had written a few scripts Sparkle (1976), Car Wash (1976) and shortly after The Wiz went on to make his debut as a director with The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981). Schumacher has since gone onto make genre films such as The Lost Boys (1990), Flatliners (1990), Falling Down (1993), Batman Forever (1995), Batman & Robin (1997), 8MM (1999), Phone Booth (2002), The Phantom of the Opera (2004), The Number 23 (2007) and Town Creek (2009), and is probably the worst director working in the American mainstream today.
Not having seen the musical that The Wiz is based on, one can only comment on the film itself. In almost all of the above-listed films, Sidney Lumet is a superb dramatist but it is clear here that the musical is just not his cup of tea. On screen, The Wiz moves with all the elegance of a limping dinosaur. The musical numbers fail to find any life and the dance set-ups are ponderous and dragging. (The sole exception is the catchy Munchkin number Hes the Wizard, belted out with a throaty Aretha Franklin gusto by Thelma Carpenter). The sets come on a quite mind-boggling scale. And the choreography, even if unimpressive, has some eye-catching scope the budget for the film must have been fantastic. In the end though, The Wiz lacks soul. There is nothing up there amid the scale of the production. And the final message, which merely comes down to believing in ones self, is trite.
A miscast Diana Ross (playing Dorothy at the age of 34) is neurotic and fails to bring Dorothy to life with any sparkle. The supporting cast overact by degrees Richard Pryor and Ted Ross become progressively more outlandish as the film progresses, while the awfulness of Mabel Kings rafter-shrieking performance as the Wicked Witch of the West defies belief. At least Michael Jackson as The Scarecrow and Nipsy Russell as the Tin Woodsman offer some charm in their performances.
There was also The Wiz Live (2015), a tv movie remake based directly on the musical.