The year 1995 saw the publication of Gregory Maguire’s “Wicked,” a novel that re-envisions the classic L. Frank Baum book “The Wizard of Oz.” The Wicked Witch of the West becomes the magical activist Elphaba, friend of Glinda the Good Witch, while the Wizard becomes an antagonist and Dorothy Gale his unwitting cats-paw. “Wicked” was adapted into a musical that premiered in 2003, and a year later Universal Pictures optioned its film rights. However, development and casting rumors would last over a decade, with a director only being confirmed this past February. Finally though, its lead stars have been cast.
As The Hollywood Reporter would have it, Universal Pictures have gotten hold of their Elphaba and Glinda to star in their movie adaptation of the musical “Wicked.” They are, respectively, none other than British stage veteran Cynthia Erivo, and American singer-actress Ariana Grande. They will be under the direction of Jon M. Chu, who came to Hollywood filmmaking prominence back in 2018 with “Crazy Rich Asians.” Both women shared their reactions to the casting on social media, with Erivo remarking “pink goes with green” (referring to Elphaba’s skin color) and Grande simply expressing thankfulness. Both women’s photos had hands over their faces, overcome with emotion.
Erivo has formidable stage credits, mostly in West End but also Broadway, from “Sister Act” (2011-12) to “The Color Purple” (2015-17). She is no slouch on film either, gaining two nominations in the 2020 Academy Awards for the 2019 biopic “Harriet” (Best Actress and Best Original Song). Grande meanwhile is a multi-platinum recording artist with two Grammy Awards. She has contributed soundtrack songs such as for 2017’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast” for Disney (alongside John Legend). She has also made inroads into acting, from Nickelodeon shows to Netflix’s upcoming “Don’t Look Up,” costarring with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence.
The “Wicked” musical is hailed as one of three theatre shows to make up to over $1 billion in ticket sales. The Broadway edition had its book written by Winnie Holzman with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Choice songs from the production include the inspiring “Defying Gravity” which has been featured in musical TV series “Glee.” The film adaptation, which is likely also a musical, will be coming along in the wake of other similar productions like Warner Bros.’ “In the Heights” last July and 20th Century Studios’ “West Side Story” this coming December. Filming for “Wicked” will start in the UK next year.
Image from Variety