Diana Ross Sings Songs From The Wiz
In 1975, the Broadway musical The Wiz—a black updating of The Wizard Of Oz—took the world by storm. It would prove to be one of the decade’s biggest musicals, a surprise hit that many weren’t sure would work; an all-black cast version of a beloved book and musical was risky, The risk was worth it, though; it won a slew of Tony Awards, and it launched the career of Stephanie Mills.
No wonder, then, that there was an interest in making a theatrical adaptation. The Supremes’ former lead singer, Diana Ross, was enthralled with the idea of a movie adaptation, and she wanted to play the lead. Conventional wisdom said that at 33, she was way too old to play a teenage girl—but wisdom went out the door when she offered to finance the production. Released in 1978, the film was one a major, major flop—due in part to the incongruous Dorothy performance by Ross. Unsurprisingly, the film’s failure put the kibosh on the post-release marketing tie-ins. Scheduled to be released in conjunction with the film, Diana Ross Sings Songs From The Wiz wound up being shelved after the flop of the film and subsequent case recording.
Diana Ross Sings Songs From The Wiz isn’t necessarily a bad record. Released as a digital-only release, the songs on this lost album highlight Ms. Ross’s powerful voice and an ability to wring out a song’s emotional potential, especially on ballads “Believe In Yourself,” “Is This What Feeling Gets? (Dorothy’s Theme),” and “Be A Lion.” The album’s weaker moments all seem to be guilty of the same crime: turning songs that feature multiple voices and chorus accompaniment into solo pieces makes “Ease On Down The Road,” “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News,” and “He’s The Wiz” feel stilted, off-kilter, and lacking flair.
In entertainment, the road to mediocracy is paved with good intentions, and it’s not hard to understand why Motown canceled Diana Ross Sings Songs From The Wiz, and this reissue doesn’t particularly add much to the Diana Ross catalog that one couldn’t find elsewhere; her cast recordings from the previous year were excellent and generally superior to the versions found here. Seek that record first, as it’s an underrated collection of songs, and leave this collection for the more hardcore Diana Ross fans.