Two Dorothys belt out "Home" for the NBC music event, which premieres Dec. 3

By Dylan Kickham Patrick Gomez
November 11, 2015 01:00 PM

In a special reunion of sorts, two generations of Dorothys will hit the stage when NBC airs The Wiz Live! in December.

Four decades after she originated the role of Dorothy in the 1975 Broadway production of the The Wiz, actress Stephanie Mills will return to the reimagined telling of The Wizard of Oz – but this time as Auntie Em.

Mills will act opposite newcomer Shanice Williams, who beat out thousands of hopefuls for the role of Dorothy in this one-time broadcast that also stars Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Ne-Yo, Common, Uzo Aduba and more.

As the cast is currently in rehearsals gearing up for the Dec. 3 telecast, Mills and Williams gave an exclusive interview (and shared an exclusive rehearsal video) with PEOPLE, Entertainment Weekly and Essence.

Shanice Williams and Stephanie Mills rehearse "Home" from The Wiz Live!

How are rehearsals going so far?
STEPHANIE MILLS: We’re already in Long Island now at the Grumman Studios, so we’ve elevated to seeing our sets and we’re in full costume, and it’s going really well.
SHANICE WILLIAMS: We are so close. The time has gone by so quickly. We have 8-hour-a-day rehearsals, but, honestly to me, it feels like a 20-minute day because we’re having fun the whole time.

Shanice, has Stephanie given you some good advice for playing Dorothy?
WILLIAMS: One of the best pieces of advice she’s given me is to always stay humble and live in the moment because I’m not ever going to get this opportunity again. This is once in a lifetime. And when I sing “Home,” she always reminds me, “You’re the only one on stage, and this is your moment – don’t hold back.”
MILLS: Shanice has all the innocence and purity that Dorothy should have. She’s 19 years old, and she’s just wonderful in that role. I’m glad she’s basically an unknown because she’s not tainted by anything. She’s pure.

Stephanie, are you excited to play Auntie Em this time around?
MILLS: Yes! Oh my God, yes! What else could I possibly be at 58 [years old]? I am so excited to be Aunt Em. It’s very emotional for me to sit back and watch them do this because I remember when I was in rehearsal for the first time at the theater. And who knew that The Wiz would last 40 years? It’s really, really wonderful.

David Alan Grier (as Lion), Shanice Williams (as Dorothy), Ne-Yo (as Tinman) and Elijah Kelly (as Scarecrow) in The Wiz Live!
Kwaku Alston/NBC

Have they modernized the story at all for this broadcast or is it the same as the original 1975 Broadway production?
MILLS: They haven’t changed the story at all. It’s the same classic story. It’s a family story for everyone, and it’s just updated. I mean, we thought we were doing something when the munchkins were on rollers and rolling around, but now, when you see Cirque du Soleil doing it, it s just incredible.

What was your audition like, Shanice?
WILLIAMS: That was my first audition ever – my first real one. I just went in there for the learning experience. I remember the first day I got there like two hours early but the line was just so long. It was ridiculous. I think I waited for like two hours before I even got inside the building. I sang “Home” and “Be a Lion” and I remember them telling me that I was going to sing for [director] Kenny Leon and I was like, “Oh my God. I’m about to sing for Kenny Leon!” It was amazing.

Do you have a favorite song from the show?
MILLS: “Be a Lion” is my favorite song. And “If You Believe.” Those are my two favorite songs in the show.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I love “Be a Lion.” And of course, “Home” is the big number, so I m excited for that too.

Is there anything that you want to do after this, Shanice?
WILLIAMS: Broadway has always been my dream. That’s what I’ve been training for the past five years. It would be incredible for me to do Broadway. But I feel like any opportunities that come up, whether it’s film or Broadway…and even Ne-Yo – [who is playing the Tin Man] – has been encouraging me to start writing music. I don’t know what’s in my future right now.

From left: Elijah Kelley, Neil Meron, Stephanie Mills, Ne-Yo, Bevy Smith and Shanice Williams at The Wiz Live! SiriusXM Town Hall hosted by Radio Andy
Jason Shaltz

What’s it been like to work with huge names like Ne-Yo, Queen Latifah and Mary J. Blige?
WILLIAMS: The fact that everyone in this cast is so chill is incredible. But just to be working with [Stephanie] now that I’m playing Dorothy, it’s, like, “Oh my God!” Every time we work together I’m, like, “Okay, this is real.”
MILLS: I really don’t come in contact with them. I’m Auntie Em, so I’m stuck in Kansas. Auntie Em don’t go to Oz.

Well, you’ve already been to Oz, so that’s okay.
MILLS: Yes, I have been to Oz. And my trip was quite wonderful.

The Wiz Live! airs Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

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