Hip-Hop 'Wizard Of Oz' Easing Down The Road

The part of Dorothy, played by Judy Garland and Diana Ross in previous film versions, has yet to be cast.

Rap star Busta Rhymes as the Cowardly Lion? R&B singer Ginuwine as the Scarecrow? Rock legend Little Richard as the Wizard of Oz?

Toto, we most definitely aren't in Kansas anymore.

We're in "The O.Z.," a planned remake of the classic 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz," which starred Judy Garland as the displaced Dorothy. That character has yet to be cast for the Fox-TV version of the story, according to a publicist for the network.

Queen Latifah will play Glinda the Good Witch in the film, while Patti LaBelle will take on the role of the Wicked Witch of the West. Along with Dorothy, the character of the Tin Man, first played on film by Jack Haley, has yet to be cast.

Director Chris Stokes is scouting for musicians to compose and perform original music for the movie, which will place Dorothy in the 21st century as a hip-hop producer who is sent by an earthquake to the "Big O.Z." Production has not yet begun on the film.

Most of the performers lined up for "The O.Z." are no strangers to acting. Busta Rhymes has a starring role opposite Samuel L. Jackson in this summer's hit remake of "Shaft," and Queen Latifah has starred in several films, including 1996's "Set It Off." Little Richard has appeared in "Mystery, Alaska" and "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," and he played himself in the Frankie Lymon biopic, "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?"

The 1939 film and its original source, L. Frank Baum's 1900 novel "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," also inspired "The Wiz" — first as a 1975 stage musical starring Stephanie Mills as Dorothy, the girl who is transported by a tornado from her Kansas farm home to the mythical, magical world of Oz.

In the 1978 film adaptation, directed by Sidney Lumet, R&B legend Diana Ross played Dorothy, Michael Jackson starred as the Scarecrow, Nipsey Russell played the Tin Man and comedian Richard Pryor was the Wiz, the curtain-cloaked granter of wishes.

"The Wiz" featured music by Quincy Jones, Ashford and Simpson and Luther Vandross, and it spawned the radio hit "Ease on Down the Road."

Busta Rhymes' most recent release, Anarchy (RealAudio excerpt of the title track) is at #5 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart.

Kamal Larsuel — who, with two other movie fans, runs a Web site called "3 Black Chicks Review Flicks" (http://3blackchicks.com) — is a fan of the play "The Wiz." But she harbors doubts whether another remake is worth doing, although she says Little Richard as the Wizard is "perfect casting."

"The only way I would say yes is if they had a very strong voice for Dorothy," Larsuel said in an e-mail from her home near Seattle. "My main criticism about ['The Wiz'] has been that Diana had no business playing Dorothy. I'd settle for an unknown if she has the pipes. Monica or Lauryn Hill could do the role justice."

Though she thought the movie version of "The Wiz" was a letdown, she understands the story's continued appeal.

"What's timeless about the story is finding yourself, coming into your own," Larsuel said.