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It's been 18 years since Wicked, the musical based on Gregory Maguire's novel of the same name, debuted on Broadway. By the end of its first year it was easily one of the most popular shows to have ever hit the stage, garnering three Tony Awards, seven Drama Desk Awards, and an Emmy, and eventually becoming one of those rare shows to pass $1 billion in ticket sales. If you were paying attention in 2003 and 2004, a Wicked movie adaptation seemed inevitable.
And then we waited, and waited, and waited, and the adaptation kept moving further into the distance. Now, at last, Universal Pictures' production of the beloved fantasy musical has finally found its leads.
Director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians, In The Heights), who's been attached to the project since early this year, confirmed Thursday night that he's cast Tony-winning and Oscar-nominated actress and singer Cynthia Erivo (The Color Purple) in the role of Elphaba, the future Wicked Witch of the West. Grammy-winning singer and actress Ariana Grande (The Voice, Hairspray Live!) will play Glinda, the eventual Good Witch of the North.
Like Maguire's novel before it, the musical tells the story of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from an alternate point-of-view, following green-skinned Elphaba's arrival at Shiz University, her ambitions to work for the Wizard himself, and her prospects as a sorcerer. It's here that she meets Glinda, and what starts as a rivalry eventually becomes an unlikely friendship, even as Elphaba's abilities put her on a path that may diverge from Glinda's one day.
The Wicked movie has been in the works on some level ever since 2004, the year after the musical first hit the stage, and it's hit a number of stumbling blocks along the way. For almost a decade, director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot) was attached to helm the production, and at one point it even had a release date for the holiday season of 2019, which eventually went to another Universal musical production, Cats. By the fall of 2020, Daldry was out as director, and Chu was in, though the film still had to navigate other production delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, of course, there was the matter of casting, since original Broadway stars Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth have long since moved on from the roles. Now, Chu has finally put the two biggest pieces of that puzzle in place.
With Erivo and Grande signed on, the rest of the Wicked cast can fill in, and it'll be very interesting to see who ends up in roles like The Wizard, Madame Morrible, Nessarose, Fiyero, and more. And of course, fans will be expecting cameos for Menzel and Chenoweth somewhere along the way.