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The cast of the movie "The Wiz" (L-R Ted Ross, Diana Ross, Nipsey Russell, Michael Jackson and Richard Pryor) pose for a publicity shot in 1978 in New York, New York.
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

The live telecast of The Wiz that’s set to air on Thursday night will hardly be the musical’s first trip down the yellow brick road.

In 1975, when the theatrical version first opened on Broadway, it was an immediate hit. “Purists and adulators of Judy Garland may carp, and one can understand why, but this all-black musical version of The Wizard of Oz is a carnival of fun,” TIME declared. “It grins from the soul, sizzles with vitality, and flaunts the gaudy hues of an exploding rainbow.”

But what truly made it “wickedly amusing” was that its writers had transplanted the classic story of Dorothy from Kansas into a big city setting without losing “the sense of childlike innocence nor the wonder of revisiting a durable fable.”

The Broadway smash, which made $10,000 a week in its first month, was part of a larger theatrical box-office upswing that year. At the Tony Awards, it went home with seven prizes including best musical. But a few years later, when much-anticipated movie version of The Wiz was released in 1978, critics were singing a different tune.

The reason, TIME’s critic John Skow declared, came down to Dorothy.

Whether the NBC version will be more Broadway or more bust remains to be seen.

Read the full 1975 Broadway review, here in the TIME Vault: Jumping Jivernacular

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Write to Lily Rothman at

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