The story of how Wicked went from novel based on an untold history of Wizard of Oz to one of the most beloved musicals of the last decades is basically the stuff of fairytales. And while getting that musical adapted onto the silver screen has been a challenge (more on that below), it’s all finally happening.
As of this writing, it’s still early days, so here’s everything we know about the movie so far (and warning, there will probably be some spoilers if you’re totally new to the property):
What’s it about?
Let’s take the standpoint of a total newbie to the Wicked world: You’ve seen The Wizard of Oz, right? Of course you have: The 1939 Judy Garland musical about a Kansas girl who flies over the rainbow, based on a book by Frank L. Baum, is one of the most beloved cultural artifacts in American history. (Did you know that it’s also a confusing metaphor for American populism and the gold standard at the turn of the 20th century? Fun fact!)
In 1995, author Gregory Maguire took a side story in Wizard—that of the relationship between the Good Witch Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West, whom he named Elphaba (a take on L. Frank Baum’s initials)—and created a revisionist novel titled Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. It follows the story of Elphaba from her upbringing to her college days, where she befriends her one-time rival Glinda before the two grow apart again. He later went on to publish two more novels in the Wicked series but the first one is what gave rise to the musical.
In 2003, Maguire’s novel got its adaptation into Wicked (the musical) by none other than Broadway legend Stephen Schwartz—mastermind writer behind musicals like Pippin and soundtracks for movies like Enchanted and The Prince of Egypt. He joined with librettist Winnie Holzman for the lyrics (she created the legendary show My So-Called Life) and a massive Broadway hit was born.
Who’s in it?
In early November, we got word that the movie was full-speed ahead with the announcement of its two lead actors—and the casting director did really well.
First, we have Ariana Grande in the role of Glinda, a role made famous by Kristin Chenoweth. It makes perfect sense, since in addition to having the pipes, Ariana is a long-time Wicked fan and no stranger to the musical genre (she started on Broadway prior to becoming a Disney Channel kid). She’s even performed songs from the musical, like for Wicked’s 15th Anniversary special and—hilariously—doing a remix of Glinda’s biggest song, “Popular” in a Mika track:
For Elphaba—notoriously considered one of the hardest roles in modern theater, and made famous by Idina Menzel—they tapped the legendary Cynthia Erivo, a Tony-, Emmy-, and Grammy-winning Broadway performer.
In short, these are some solid casting decisions that bring the star power but also keep the Broadway fans happy.
Here’s the two leads as they react to their announcement over FaceTime and send each other flowers to celebrate:
Why is the movie happening now?
It’s been a surprisingly long road to the Wicked onto the big screen. In 2012, Universal announced it was going to make the movie with Stephen Daldry directing, according to Polygon. By 2016, production was aiming for a 2019 release, but then a couple things happened: First, scheduling got wonky, as it tends to with pictures that have been in the pipeline for awhile; and second, Cats came out and made everyone doubt the wisdom of even trying to bring beloved musicals to the big screen. Which, fair! Cats, which ended up in the release date vacated by the would-be Wicked adaptation, was such an absolute trainwreck of a film that it caused the musical’s writer Andrew Lloyd Webber to have to get a therapy dog.
In early 2021, the production announced John M. Chu would direct—he recently directed the adaptation of In the Heights, which fared better than Cats but still doesn’t show a great trend for Hollywood musicals, tbh—with Schwartz and Holzman adapting the screenplay.
Will there be any big differences between the musical and the movie?
Not sure yet! The fact that Schwartz and Holzman will be writing the adaptation is great news, because it means that any changes will be handled by the people who first adapted Wicked and should therefore feel “in keeping” with the show’s vision.
That said, who knows! Andrew Lloyd Webber helped with the Cats movie too, and we know how well that went. Same with the wildly popular musical Dear Evan Hanson, which was also recently adapted into a much-maligned (though, I would argue, wrongfully maligned!) film, despite the musical’s originators serving as executive producers.
Nevertheless, there’s good reason to think Wicked as a film will work particularly well. After all, it’s based on a musical that’s based on a book that’s based on a film that’s based on a book—this adaptation has seen it all, format-wise, and stayed great.
So we’re optimistic that, upon its release, this film will be defying…recent trends
When does it come out?
It starts production next summer, so we have at least a year to wait—probably longer.
We’ll update as we hear more.