Defying Urgency: Waiting for the Film Adaptation of Wicked

Defying Urgency: Waiting for the Film Adaptation of Wicked

This week, musical theatre lovers were greeted with the bittersweet news that the film adaptation of the mega-hit Wicked is going to happen, but we will have to wait until 2019 before they will see their favorite green lady on the big screen. The producers have been talking about the film version of Wicked for years, but they seem to be defying urgency in its path to fruition. Is there a reason why it is taking so long, or are they just waiting for the Broadway production's popularity to peter out? 

For many, the idea of a film version of Wicked is a thrilling possibility, an opportunity to open up this musical theatre fantasy with the effects only film can provide. For me, I have to wonder what can be gained by making Wicked into a film and I contemplate that there might be other reasons why producers are buying themselves time. Perhaps they see it as a more complicated property to adapt than what we might think is required? Here are some reasons why I think that could be the case:

The stage script of Wicked and the way it is told is inherently theatrical and bound to the stage medium. Musically, many of the best numbers are internal monologues delivered via power ballads. This works great onstage, but rarely does it ignite on the screen. Wicked flies because of its theatre setting, complete with the over-amplification and barn-like performing spaces that allow the characters to be big and over the top. The special effects of the stage are part of the excitement, an added lift of adrenaline that is very exciting to see onstage, but is too commonplace in film to provide any real pixie dust. Film forces an up-closeness, an intimacy of the camera lens, that is going to make these big songs and magical moments feel overblown. This will necessitate directorial and camera angle subtleties that go against the grain of the show's larger than life emotional gravity. I think the medium of film works against Wicked, just as it did for Rent, The Phantom of the Opera and portions of Les Misérables. Too big and too melodramatic to be contained by the screen. it needs the open air to breathe. 

 Carole Shelley, Kristin Chenoweth, Manuel Herrera, Joel Grey, Idina Menzel and Norbert Leo Butz

Carole Shelley, Kristin Chenoweth, Manuel Herrera, Joel Grey, Idina Menzel and Norbert Leo Butz

The other challenge Wicked has to overcome is its convoluted plot. The stage production starts out clear and establishes relationships efficiently. As the show goes on, everything becomes convoluted, mostly through forced attempts to cleverly parallel the script with the original L. Frank Baum novel (some of which are questionable in their order and timing). This will present challenges in adapting the script for the screen where plot issues and weaknesses become magnified. 

Of course there are the enduring characters of Elphaba, Glinda and Fiyero who offer strength and friendship, not to mention Stephen Schwartz's (mostly) electrified score that certainly propels the characters forward, pushing past any plot challenges. Spectacle and slight of hand go a long way in making Wicked work onstage. But how does that translate to cinema?

Will a film version of Wicked be a success? Most assuredly. The show hasn't run on Broadway this long without a devoted fan base. This will lead to long lines at the box office and a strong opening weekend of fans of the stage production fueling ticket sales. Will audiences be satisfied? It's hard to say. I think there are a lot of challenges a Wicked film needs to overcome in order for it to find any kind of critical and enduring appreciation, but most people will walk away singing the songs and feeling empowered anyway. Not such a bad thing, is it? 

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