Ne-Yo has been diversifying his body of work as of late. The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter has expanded into Hollywood, having appeared in the 2010 World War II epic Red Tails, served as a musical consultant on FOX’s hit “Empire,” and now he’s set to star as the Tin-Man in the highly anticipated television event, “The Wiz Live!” which airs on NBC on Dec. 3. “The Wiz Live!” is a new endeavor for Ne-Yo, but his love for the production goes way back.
“I’ve been a fan of The Wiz since the beginning,” he says. “I remember watching it as a very, very young child — it was the one thing that could get everybody in my house in front of the TV at the same time. So there’s a special place in my heart for that. Another thing was, Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, Diana Ross, Nipsey Russell, Quincy Jones on the music — me being a music dude, it was one of those things that was a staple. When I found out they were remaking it, I did everything possible to become a part of it.”
This production also stars Queen Latifah, David Alan Grier, Common, Mary J. Blige and newcomer Shanice Williams and looks to revamp the beloved musical and movie for contemporary viewers while holding true to the infectious energy of its predecessors. Though he was cast as The Tin Man, Ne-Yo admits that he sought a different role in the project.
“I initially auditioned for the part of the Scarecrow — y’know, Michael Jackson was such a huge influence for me so I figured I’d wanna go out for that,” he reveals with a chuckle. “But I wound up being the Tin-Man, which I am in no way, shape, form or fashion mad at. I was just prepared to audition for the Scarecrow. I learned the lines all the way through and all the songs — the whole nine. My audition for the Tin-Man took 10 minutes. I went in the back room for a second and memorized as much as I could, didn’t really know any of the songs and I thought ‘They definitely won’t be calling me back for the Tin-Man.’ But I got the call-back! It was kind of bittersweet because I wanted the Scarecrow, but when they told me who was playing the Scarecrow, a good friend of mine, a brother of mine, named Elijay Kelly. He did Red Tails with me, the George Lucas movie. We met on that set and we’ve been brothers ever since. So I was like ‘He’s got the chops. He can definitely pull this off.’ ”
The demanding workload, makeup and choreography have been a labor of love for the cast, and Ne-Yo says that his having no theater experience hasn’t been a huge hindrance in his approach to the work.
“I’ve never done anything theater or like this before. So I had no expectations,” he says. When I’m walking into something that I’ve never done before, I try not to set any expectations. That way you can’t be disappointed if your expectations aren’t met. I just came in ready to work. I didn’t know exactly what all it was gonna be — rehearsals are a good six to eight hours every day, the scripts and the songs and the choreography — all day long. So it’s a workload. But what was unexpected was how everybody is all on the same page. Everybody’s working toward the exact same goal and that’s rare. Not only on the same page, but also working twenty times harder than necessary because everybody wants it to be as good as possible.”