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Friday, March 1, 2024
The Observer

‘Wicked’: The popular musical and its upcoming adaptation

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In 1995, author Gregory Maguire published his novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.The novel is presented as a biography of the Wicked Witch, named Elphaba by Maguire, and serves as a revisionist interpretation of L. Frank Baum’s classic novel and its popular film adaptation. It not only presents the circumstances of the Witch’s life, but also details her first meeting with Glinda, the future Good Witch of the South, their time together in college and the events that occur thereafter, including the story of “The Wizard of Oz.”

Composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz spent five years bringing the book to the stage. Receiving backing from producer Marc Platt in 1998, Schwartz began working on the musical. During the development period, Schwartz brought on acclaimed television writer Winnie Holzman, best known for creating “My So-Called Life.” Together, along with contributions by Platt, the team adapted Maguire’s novel, trimming many details and adding their own. Despite this, the essence of the work remained.

The show was a smash hit upon its debut, netting 10 nominations at the 2004 Tony Awards, with both lead actresses receiving nominations. Originating the leading roles of Elphaba and Glinda were Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, respectively, with Menzel taking home the Tony for Best Actress. Despite the show’s critical and commercial success, it did not win the awards for Best Book, Score or Musical; those honors went to “Avenue Q,” an adult take on puppet shows such as “Sesame Street.”

“Wicked” celebrates its 20th year on Broadway this year. In its two decades of success, it has left a mark on the cultural landscape, with showstopper “Defying Gravity” being a notable example. All of this success points the same direction as every prominent Broadway musical does: a movie adaptation. Announced officially in 2010, director Stephen Daldry was attached to the film in 2012 and left eight years later in 2020. He was replaced by Jon M. Chu, director of the then-upcoming adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights.”

In the last three years, more information about the film has been announced. The cast features a mix of actors from both theater and Hollywood backgrounds. On the Broadway side, the central role of Elphaba will be played by Tony Award Winner Cynthia Erivo, and the supporting role of Boq the Munchkin will be portrayed by Ethan Slater, best known for playing SpongeBob in the “SpongeBob SquarePants” musical on Broadway. Slater has also taken on dramatic roles in the past, such as Lee Harvey Oswald in Steven Sondheim’s ”Assassins.” The Hollywood actors featured in the film are Michelle Yeoh, fresh off her Academy Award win, as Madame Morrible, Elphaba’s mentor, and Jeff Goldblum, known for films such as “Jurassic Park,” “The Fly” and “Independence Day,” as the Wizard.

Some actors in the film are harder to define, falling somewhere between the two categories; Ariana Grande, who has been cast as co-lead Glinda, is best known for her music career and roles in Nickelodeon shows, but her career started with a Broadway production of “13.” Jonathan Bailey is starring as male lead Fiyero, and he is recognizable to younger audiences as Viscount Anthony Bridgerton in Netflix’s “Bridgerton.” However, the actor has also had a notable career in London theater, winning a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Supporting Role in a Musical in 2019 for his role in the revival of the musical “Company.”

How do you adapt a musical as beloved as “Wicked?” You need to be careful; you can’t cut out too much or change the show too greatly, but every stage-to-screen adaptation needs to take some liberties to work better as a film. “Wicked” is a two-act musical, and Universal has announced that the movie will be released as two separate films. “Wicked: Part One” debuts November 27, 2024, and “Part Two” is scheduled for Christmas Day of 2025. Despite this, fans have already gotten their first glimpse of the film as a set video leaked of Ariana Grande’s Glinda singing an excerpt from the show’s opening number … possibly. As those online often do, debate has been ongoing on whether it is actually Grande singing or lip-syncing for the shot. Those in the latter camp have their own divisions. Some argue it is her own voice in the pre-recorded track, and others are convinced it is a recording of the original actress Kristin Chenoweth. 

We have over a year until the first installment in the series arrives. While I try to be optimistic about the upcoming film, there is no telling the film’s quality until it releases. All any of us can do is wait and hope for the best.