'The Wiz Live!' Casting Director: Looking for Dorothy Is a 'Daunting' Challenge

NBC will be holding an open casting call in hopes of finding a complete unknown to play the musical adaptation's main character

Photo: Mary Evans/Motown Productions/Universal Pictures/Ronald Grant/Everett

Calling all Dorothy hopefuls! Here’s your chance to star in NBC’s next musical adaptation, The Wiz Live!

The network announced last month that it would be holding an open casting call for the lead role in the much-anticipated adaptation of the 1975 Broadway hit, and auditions begin this Saturday at Telsey + Co in Midtown Manhattan at 10 a.m., with sign-in starting at 9 a.m.

Since the May 11 announcement that Stephanie Mills, who played Dorothy in the original Broadway cast, has been cast as Auntie Em in NBC’s version, theater buffs have wondered why producers are looking for a complete unknown to take on the main role.

“The story of Dorothy has always been about someone new, whether it was Judy Garland, who created it in The Wizard of Oz, or Stephanie, who did The Wiz – she was a complete unknown talent at the time,” casting director Bernard Telsey tells PEOPLE. “There are so many other roles we can do recognizable name actors for, between the Scarecrow and the Tin Man and the Lion, or the multiple Witches or The Wiz, that it feels like the innocence of Dorothy should be a face that we don’t recognize and we don’t know.”

Telsey is hoping that the perfect casting decision will end up creating a star.

“There’s nothing better than finding a new talent and a new voice that you get to introduce to the marketplace and the audience, and what a great introduction – getting to do Dorothy in this iconic story, The Wiz, for something like NBC, the visibility is huge,” he says.

And although tracking down the perfect actress can be a “daunting” task, Telsey says he is trying to look at it as more of “an exciting challenge.”

“If we can find a great girl who has that talent and that voice and who can tap into that emotion, then the part will sort of take care of itself because of its being so iconic,” he adds. “If you have the goods, the story will do the work.”

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At this weekend’s casting call, the actresses will be asked to sing “Home” from the musical, although Telsey says that if they haven’t had time to learn the song, “I just want to hear them sing and tap into their storytelling, so I’m happy to hear ‘Amazing Grace.’ ” Promising candidates will be asked back for a series of two to four callbacks in which the casting directors will work with them and introduce them to first the producers, then the director and, eventually, the network. Telsey says they hope to have their Dorothy chosen by the end of the summer.

As for what it will take to earn the coveted role, “This girl has to be able to sing her face off,” Telsey says. “She really has to be an amazing vocalist because it’s a lot of singing that Dorothy gets to do in the show, and the songs really have a big range, so we’re looking for someone who has access to her talent and knows how to share it.”

The Wiz Live! will air Dec. 3 on NBC.

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