Performer of the Week: Mary J. Blige

THE PERFORMER | Mary J. Blige

THE SHOW | The Wiz Live (Dec. 3, 2015)

THE PERFORMANCE | It’s more than understandable if you went into NBC’s The Wiz Live with some trepidation about its 2 hour and 45 minute running time. After all, that’s careening toward Super Bowl length — with no halftime show to break up the action.

Quite impressively, however, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron’s production zipped on down the road without any lag in energy — thanks to excellent performances, eye-popping costumes and kicky choreography. And an hour and 51 minutes in, the musical got an added jolt of joy with the arrival of Mary J. Blige’s ill-tempered villainess Evillene.

Clad in a black and violet gown that looked like it got dropped directly from the set of Once Upon a Time, Blige deliciously chewed up the scenery from her first moment on the stage — sneering at her groveling subjects with haughty disdain, demanding the death of the Royal Plumber for allowing a leaky pipe to go unrepaired and then launching into a glorious rendition of “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News.” Blige’s pitch-perfect holleration and growlation brought out the cantankerous humor in the lyrics — and provided a perfect counterbalance to the wide-eyed innocence of Shanice Williams’ excellent work as heroine Dorothy Gale.

After she finished the high-energy jam, Evillene learned Dorothy and her friends were on their way to kill her. “That’s not such bad news,” she reasoned, delivering one of the funniest zingers of the production. “It’s not nice news, but it’s not terrible news! I mean, if you’re gonna be a wicked witch and you’re good at your job, you’re gonna have to expect to rub some folks the wrong way.” And with that, she unleashed her “winged warriors” with a wickedness so gleeful, it was hard not to root for Blige’s character — just for a moment.

A few minutes later, Evillene would be dispatched by Dorothy and a bucket of dirty water. But while her character’s brief stage time ended in the ultimate defeat, Blige’s work in The Wiz Live was an undeniable triumph.

Tovah-Feldshuh-TWDHONORABLE MENTION | Tovah Feldshuh isn’t just having a moment, she’s having moments — plural. The veteran actress delivered not one but two knockout performances this week, first turning Deanna’s Walking Dead swan song into a brave aria, then literally breaking into song as Rebecca’s hypercritical mom on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. (Is “Where’s the Bathroom?” an insta-classic, or what? Perfection!) In both cases, Feldshuh made the most of her opportunities to reveal the softness that made her characters so tough. As a result, it was just as moving when Deanna went out in a blaze of glory as it was when Mrs. Bunch admitted that she loved her daughter (who’d totally survive when the Cossacks come).

potw-gotham-mazouzHONORABLE MENTION | On the heels of an episode in which Bruce first tested the waters as a cunning manipulator, Gotham’s David Mazouz this week explored some dark knight places as the Wayne scion braced for a seemingly certain death — in the event he couldn’t masterfully elude it. After a “failed” escape attempt orchestrated by Silver, Mazouz made clear Bruce’s always-on perception. “When I’m dead you may feel bad, and I don’t want you to think you tricked me,” he says in outing his frenemy’s “ghoulish charade.” Then taking stock of Silver’s inherited duplicity, Mazouz mixed a cold truth with a hint of warm compassion, stating, “I don’t love you. I pity you.” But the 14-year-old actor most moved us when a wistful Bruce shared of his dire fate, “Mostly I feel very alive. Happy, even. I’m going to see my parents,” whose infamous murder he longed to solve — before demonstrating the heart of a hero, as Bruce gave Silver a goodbye kiss that quite literally saved her life.

ruth-wilson-the-affair-potwHONORABLE MENTION | Few TV shows have made childbirth seem more harrowing than The Affair did last Sunday — and not just because it looked quite painful. Rather, it was Ruth Wilson’s superb, complex performance that gave Alison’s delivery scene the gravitas it deserved. As Alison went into labor during a vicious hurricane, Wilson’s face became a veritable Rolodex of emotion, portraying her character’s sadness (at not having Noah by her side), fear (at giving birth in a natural disaster) and guilt (at not wanting to have the baby at all). Wilson played Alison’s conflict so intensely that by the time Little Solloway was born, we let out a collective sigh of relief we didn’t even know we’d been holding.

Which performances knocked your socks off this week? Hit the comments!