After years of rumors, Universal Studios has officially announced — via the Wrap — that Broadway smash musical Wicked is finally getting a live-action movie adaptation, which is due to hit theaters on December 20, 2019 from director Stephen Daldry. This is huge news, as Stephen Schwartz’s play is easily the biggest musical hit of the 21st Century. Over the past 13 years since it first debuted, Wicked has earned over $3 billion on Broadway alone, and won tons of awards. Young girls who were obsessed with the show when it first debuted will be in their mid-to-late 20s when the movie comes out, many with kids of their own they’ll want to introduce the show to. Basically, now is the perfect time for this movie to happen.
For those of you who have been living under a rock (or under a house) Wicked is the story of the unlikely friendship between the two Witches of Oz — Elphaba, the “Wicked Witch of the West;” and Glinda, the “Good Witch of the North.” It’s essentially a prequel and then retelling of the events of the The Wizard of Oz, with many familiar characters from the original novel showing up in the play in new and different ways. The musical is so beloved that the hope is this will be a gigantic smash hit. But it’s also an easy thing to screw up if you don’t do it just right. Here are a few tips for the producers of Wicked to consider when bringing this beloved musical to life on screen.
The Film Needs to be Impeccably Cast
So much of what made Wicked work as a musical was the incredible cast who originated the show on Broadway (and who you still hear whenever you listen to the Broadway cast album). Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth left an indelible mark on those roles, and set the template for everyone else that has stepped in to their pointy shoes. Of course, if this were an animated film, where age doesn’t matter, I’d say simply cast Menzel and Chenoweth, but alas, Universal is adapting this as live-action. Therefore, they are going to cast younger, sexier, and more well known. And probably not someone just Broadway-famous, but movie-star famous.
Elphaba and Glinda will be the hardest to cast, but they have to be perfect, as the whole show hinges on these two. The obvious choices for Elphaba are former Glee star Lea Michele, as she resembles original Broadway Elphaba Idina Menzel a great deal. So much so, in fact, that the Glee producers cast Menzel as Lea Michele’s biological mother. But although Lea looks like Idina and kind of sounds like her, she doesn’t really have her edginess as a performer. Someone who does have edge–and, little known fact, can sing–is Emilia Clarke, better known as Daenerys on Game of Thrones. You never know–she might look and sound amazing in green face paint.
Bubbly Glinda also needs to be perfectly cast. Kristen Bell could possibly pull it off, although she’s getting a bit too old to conceivably play college age, which both witches are at the start of the show. For the vain, pretty, but “he really has layers” party boy Fiyero–who later becomes the Scarecrow–I think Zac Efron was born for the part. Supergirl star (and former Broadway performer) Jeremy Jordan would be perfect as Boq the Munchkin, who is also the future Tin Man. For the elder and conniving witch Madame Morrible, Jessica Lange could channel a little bit of her American Horror Story: Coven character of the Supreme Witch, and it would be absolutely perfect. Regardless of who they chose, casting is key for Wicked to work on screen.
Pull From the Original Novel As Much As Possible
Before Wicked was a musical smash, it was a successful novel from author Gregory Maguire, who would latter make a career out of writing fairy tales from a different perspective, like Mirror, Mirror. Although the play sticks pretty close to the broad strokes of the novel, there are several places where the play also deviates big time. First off, the book is way more adult and complex, and the characters are painted in less black and white ways, and come in moral shades of gray.
The musical likes things a bit simpler, and we know Hollywood greatly prefers things kept morally simple as well, so this will probably carry over. But just a touch of adult complexity from the novel would be pretty welcome, or at least as much as you can get away with. The novel also has more adult things the play leaves out, like LGBT characters, and even far more sexuality in general. I wouldn’t hate it if some of this made it into the movie version, even if it’s just hinted at, so the whole thing isn’t completely vanilla.
Cut a Deal with Warner Brothers to Use Elements from the 1939 Classic Film
For most people, when you say “The Wizard of Oz“, they don’t think the original novel by L. Frank Baum, they think the 1939 MGM classic starring Judy Garland. The film left such an indelible mark on all things Oz, almost every other adaptation has suffered in comparison. Remember the 1985 Disney film Return to Oz? if your answer is no, that’s because it was a gigantic flop in its day.
The only financially successful Oz adaptation in recent memory is 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful, which made money, but no-one really liked it much. It’s only three years old, and has already seemingly faded into obscurity. Often the culprit for the respective failures of all these Oz adaptations comes down to one thing: the shadow of the 1939 film is too large to get out from under.
Which is why the movie version of Wicked shouldn’t even try to get away from it. In fact, the musical Wicked takes tons of cues from the classic movie which are not found in the original book. Glinda riding around in a bubble is straight from the movie, and even Elphaba’s green skin is a nod to Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West–Baum’s original novel never described her as being green.
Which is why I think Universal needs to make a deal with Warner Brothers (owner to the rights for the classic MGM film) to use some of the elements from the original movie when making Wicked. I think fans would go nuts at the site of the Ruby Slippers, and certain design elements from the cinematic land of Oz should be used to. Sure, it’s going to cost a fortune to negotiate with Warner Brothers, but they’re not stupid–the mega success of something like Wicked will be huge, and will only move for Blu-rays and other Wizard of Oz merch for WB. If Sony can lend out Spider-Man to Marvel Studios, then Universal and WB can shake hands and make this happen.
So what do you think are the essential elements needed to make Wicked work as a film? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Images: Universal Stage Productions / HarperCollins / Warner Brothers /