x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Something Wicked this way comes

Wicked, the highly successful musical play, will is expected to make the transition to the big screen.

Kristin Chenoweth, left, and Idina Menzel in the Broadway musical <i>Wicked</i>.
Kristin Chenoweth, left, and Idina Menzel in the Broadway musical Wicked.

Wicked, the highly successful musical play based on Gregory Maguire's novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, looks like it will be the latest in a long line of hit shows to make the transition to the big screen. According to the entertainment website Deadline, the show's producer, Marc Platt, alongside the book writer Winnie Holzman and the songwriter Stephen Schwartz, have already begun talks with potential directors.

Names cropping up for the director's job on the sure-fire hit include the mastermind behind Lost, J.J. Abrams, Rob Marshall (Chicago and Nine), James Mangold (Walk the Line) and Ryan Murphy of Glee fame. No one has been confirmed for a role in the movie, but there are rumours that the original stars of the Broadway show - Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth - will reprise their roles as Elphaba and Glinda respectively.

From 2008's Mamma Mia! (starring Meryl Streep), which took in over $600 million (Dh2.2 billion) worldwide upon its release, to old favourites such as South Pacific (1958), My Fair Lady (1964) and Oliver! (1968), the history of musicals that have made the leap from stage to screen is long and glorious, but after a series of flops in the 70s followed by two fallow decades, it is only in the last 10 years that major hits like the multi-Oscar winner, Chicago (2002) and the 2007 critical and box-office success Hairspray have revived our enthusiasm for the genre.

But what is it that makes Wicked ripe for reprisal? Well, take a look at the figures: since its first run in 2003 (at San Francisco's Curran Theatre) the show has gone on to break box-office records the world over. Wicked has won over 35 major international awards (the most recent being the 2010 Laurence Olivier Award for Most Popular Show) and to this day, seven years after hitting the Big Apple, it is still the top-selling musical on Broadway.

When seats for the show first went on sale in London, in 2006, more than £100,000 worth were purchased within the first hour. More than 1,500 performances later, the UK production has played to almost three million people, recently reaching a box-office milestone by hitting ticket sales of over £100 million (Dh349m) - making Wicked's worldwide gross a whopping £1.2 billion and further cementing its status as one of the most popular musical shows of all time.

And the story is nothing if not right-on. The novel on which the show is loosely based was written by the American author Gregory Maguire in 1995 and was itself based on the Frank L Baum classic The Wizard of Oz. Maguire was introduced to the idea behind his novel after being heavily influenced by two major events that took place while he was living in London in the early 90s - the infamous James Bulger murder (in which two young boys brutally murdered the two-year-old toddler, James) and the first Gulf War - which saw the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, being referred to by the British press as "the next Hitler". Fascinated by the media's demonisation of the two young boys and Hussein, Maguire began thinking about the labels that go along with social judgement - bad, evil, wicked.

With this thought in mind, Maguire soon discovered the model for the protagonist of his morality-fantasy tale: The Wizard of Oz's terrifying Wicked Witch of the West. Naming her 'Elphaba' (which is an amalgamation of the first three vowels of the author Frank L Baum's name), Maguire set about concocting a back story for the green sorceress, to give meaning to her traditionally one-dimensional character. And unlike the original book and family-friendly movie, Maguire's novel is decidedly adult in its themes.

Gone are the happy-go-lucky Munchkinlanders and gleaming yellow brick road to be replaced by a group of politically and socially repressed individuals whose fabled path to the Emerald City fell into disrepair many years ago. Gone as well are the naive farm girl Dorothy and her pet dog, Toto, who are only briefly mentioned in the story before making an appearance in the concluding chapter. Maguire's novel focuses solely on the tumultuous life of Elphaba and those people most closely connected to her and manages to paint an entirely different picture of the much-maligned enchantress.

Turns out in this world, Elphaba isn't so much wicked as she is misunderstood, the tragic events that take place during her lifetime giving her a bitter and hardened outlook on the world. The musical's popularity with teens - a demographic for whom the term "misunderstood" might have been invented - is, then, assured by the plot. Whether its transfer from Broadway to the silver screen will appeal to the older Mamma Mia! crowd remains to be seen.