Disney’s live-action release Maleficent is a revisionist take on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, which tells the centuries-old story from the perspective of its traditional antagonist – and thus, reveals more about her backstory, as well as her connection to the princess Aurora, so as to paint the sorceress as a more complex and sympathetic figure (making her a tragic villain, in essence).
The project has (fairly) prompted many a comparison to Wicked: the hit Broadway stage musical – adapted from the Gregory Maguire novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West – that explores in depth the shared history of the Witches of Oz, as filtered through the experiences of the most famous “evil” one.
Walt Disney Pictures, as it were, has offered its own alternate (and farless satisfying) spin on the Wicked Witch of the West’s origins in the film Oz the Great and Powerful, but now a proper cinematic version of the Wicked story – in musical form – appears to be slowly, but surely, lurching forward. This project would not be based on the Maguire book either, unlike the mini-series that ABC started developing a few years ago (but which, for the time being, has yet to come to fruition).
Stephen Schwartz, who created the music/lyrics for Wicked - in addition to having worked on Disney animated musicals like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the live-action/animated princess comedy/satire Enchanted – provided the following update on a Wicked movie to Vulture:
“We’re starting to do some work on it. We’ve actually started gearing up on it a little bit… I don’t know exactly how many years away it is. What are we going to change? What are we going to keep? How do you use a whole new language and medium to tell the story? [We can] really look at it again and say, ‘Oh, we can do this, and we’ve always wanted to do that and we couldn’t onstage, but we can in a movie.’ We’re actually having a blast.”
Celebrated Broadway alum Idina Menzel (fresh off voicing Elsa and singing the Oscar-winning “Let It Go” tune from Frozen) starred in the original run of Wicked as Elphaba: a young woman whose green complexion makes her an outsider, even after she forms a friendship with Glinda during their early school years – before ideological differences drive the pair apart and lead them to adapt their more famous Wicked Witch/Good Witch personas. The Broadway musical won three Tony Awards during its initial production and celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2013 (making it one of the top 15 longest-running Broadway shows of all time).
The Wicked stage musical book was written by Winnie Holzman, who also created the cult 1990s drama series My So-Called Life (starring young Clare Danes and Jared Leto). Much like the Les Misérables stage musical writers Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg assisted in bringing that show to the big screen, it seems logical for Holzman to likewise be a key player in refashioning her Wicked play book as a screenplay for a full-length film treatment.
Wicked certainly lends itself to a movie adaptation, between its setting – a rendition of the magical land of Oz that is just different enough than recent onscreen versions – and its “sympathy for the villain” approach, which is very much in fashion for storytellers right now.
Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.