Monday, July 25, 2016

Wicked: News, Rumors, and Speculation about the Upcoming Stage-to-Screen Adaptation

For years, Oz fans and musical theatre fans alike have wondered what a film adaptation of the musical Wicked might be like. Jared and I even discussed it, albeit somewhat briefly, in a recent podcast. It wasn't until last month, however, that such a film was formally announced and given a release date. (You can read Jared's thoughts on that announcement here.) Although we're still a ways away from that December 20, 2019 release date (1,242 days as of this posting, but who's counting?), we're starting to learn more about the approach that director Stephen Daldry and company are taking in bringing the beloved stage show to the big screen.

Wicked's composer and
lyricist Stephen Schwartz
Just this past week, composer Stephen Schwartz revealed during a panel at San Diego Comic-Con that the film would have four songs not included in the original musical, one of which is a song that was written for but was ultimately cut from the Broadway production. This could very well be "Making Good," a song that had been written for Elphaba but was replaced by "The Wizard and I." (You can listen to a recording of "Making Good" here.) Schwartz has said that the cut song was "too mild" and that he and the creative team felt that there needed to be a bigger, more compelling (and showstopping) song for Elphaba in its place.

It seems that most people are responding with excitement to the news that the film could include as many as four new songs, but personally, I have more mixed, less enthusiastic feelings about it. I definitely understand that the film will not and should not be a carbon copy of the stage show – one reason being that the clearly defined, two-act structure is different from the more fluid, three-act structure of a film, and another being that it's simply not realistic to expect that everything from the show will be carried over to the film. I feel, however, like there's no need to add to what's already there, and I hope that the final film doesn't diverge too much from the stage show.

Disney's film adaptation of Into the Woods was generally well-received and was mildly successful in terms of box office, but there were many people who were not happy about the changes that were made from the original musical. Not only were nine of the stage show's songs absent, but much of the violent and sexual content was toned down for the film (likely in order to obtain a PG rating and to be able to appeal to a wider audience, as of most Disney's content does). I think it's also relevant to mention the most recent film adaptation of Annie, which was basically "dead on arrival" in terms of the way it was received by critics and many, if not most, moviegoers because of its contemporary approach to the material and its obvious and significant differences from prior adaptations.

I honestly don't think there's much of a chance that the Wicked movie will be so different from the stage production and so harshly-received as the aforementioned Annie adaptation, especially since the screenplay is being written by Winnie Holzman, who also wrote the book for the original musical, but I'm definitely curious to see what changes are made and how those changes are received.

I'm also curious to see how people respond to the casting announcements that will inevitably arrive within the next year or so. It's pretty much a given that Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth won't be reprising their roles from the Broadway production, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were cast in other roles or made some sort of cameo appearance in the film. Kristin Chenoweth has said in passing that she'd be up for playing Madame Morrible, and if that were to happen, you wouldn't hear any complaints from me. The bigger question, though, is if not Idina and Kristin as Elphaba and Glinda, then who? Who should take on those now-iconic roles?

Anna Kendrick and Kristin
Chenoweth performing
the song "For Good"
at Trevor Live in 2013.
Well, I think it would be remiss of me to ignore the possibility that Anna Kendrick will be cast as Elphaba, and allow me explain my reasoning for that. The Wicked movie is being produced and distributed by Universal, the studio responsible for Pitch Perfect, the movie that made Kendrick a star and that was successful enough to spawn two sequels (the second of which is expected to arrive late next year). Assuming that a Wicked movie would carry a price tag of at least $100 million, it's unlikely that relatively unknown actors would be cast (although I know some musical theatre fans may not want to believe that). Kendrick has demonstrated her star power with the Pitch Perfect franchise and her ability to work in a musical of this caliber with her role as Cinderella in Into the Woods (which shares a producer with Wicked in Marc Platt), and I can't think of any other actresses (who would be appropriate for the role anyway) of which the same could be said. Aside from that, she's already expressed interest in the role, and she even performed a song from the musical with Kristin Chenoweth at an event in 2013 (video here).

Another name that's come up over the years is Lea Michele, best known for her role as Rachel on the TV show Glee. Like Anna Kendrick, Lea has expressed interest in someday playing Elphaba in a Wicked movie, and she's performed with both Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth. Chenoweth even suggested Lea in a recent interview in which she was asked who she'd like to see cast in the film. I've talked to many people who are rooting for Lea to get to the role and who feel like she's better suited to the role than is Anna Kendrick, and while I don't necessarily disagree with that, I think the reality is that Lea hasn't done enough post-Glee. Sure, she's on Fox's Scream Queens, but that show isn't popular and doesn't get very good ratings, and she, aside from a voice-over role in Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, hasn't been given a shot on the big screen since New Year's Eve, which was released almost five years ago. I do think that Lea should and probably will be at least considered for the role of Elphaba, but I don't know if casting her would be in the best interest of the film in terms of its potential to really succeed financially.

Kristin Chenoweth and Dove Cameron as Maleficent and Mal, Maleficent's
daughter, respectively, in Disney Channel's Descendants.

As for who could end up cast as Glinda, I think the possibilities are less clear than they seem to be for Elphaba. Amanda Seyfried has campaigned for the role for some time (and has even named Anna Kendrick as her pick to play Elphaba), and even though I like her and think she's very talented, my concern is that she might be a little too old for the part. Another actress who's thrown her name in the ring is Disney Channel star Dove Cameron, who shared the screen (and a musical number) with Kristin Chenoweth in the hit television film Descendants last year. In the same interview in which Chenoweth suggested that Lea Michele play Elphaba, she said that she'd like to see Dove play Glinda in the film. I'm not convinced that Dove Cameron has the charisma or the singing chops for it, but I'd certainly be open to the idea of her taking on the role.

At the end of the day, it obviously isn't up to me or any of us who will be cast in the Wicked movie or what the movie will be like, but it's fun to think about and speculate while we wait for those decisions to be made and announced and for the film to (finally) be released. As a big fan of the musical and having seen the stage production going on ten times, I'm eager to learn more about the film and to see it come together over the next three years, and I hope that it's as good and as successful as I think it has the potential to be.

Feel free to share your own hopes, ideas, thoughts, or concerns about Wicked's long-awaited move from the stage to the screen in the comments below!

No comments: