Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo have been confirmed as the leads in Jon M. Chu’s film adaptation of Wicked, the hit Broadway musical adapted from a novel retelling from the Witches’ perspective the story of The Wizard of Oz, the 1939 film based on L Frank Baum’s 1900 book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. (And people say Hollywood has no new ideas any more.)
Grande will play Galinda, aka Glinda the Good Witch, the role originated by Kristin Chenoweth on Broadway; Erivo will take on Elphaba, the green-skinned future Wicked Witch of the West, and thus also the musical’s iconic Act One finale number, “Defying Gravity”.
The co-stars shared the news in matching Instagram posts, showing what looked to be a very sweet and teary FaceTime call with Chu.
Grande has long been favoured for a role in the film, with the musical’s composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz telling Gay Times that she was in the running and he was a “massive fan”. Grande also joined the 15th anniversary celebrations, performing live in the anniversary special and adding her take on Elphaba’s number “The Wizard and I” to the special edition cast album.
Idina Menzel, who played Elphaba in the original run, joked (we think?) to Variety in 2019 that she should be digitally de-aged to continue the role in the film: “I mean I love you, Ariana, but I still am relevant here.”
(The story begins while the witches are college-aged — so while Erivo at 34 is stunning and certainly younger than Menzel’s 50, a little Irishman-style CGI wizardry may still be called for to avoid a Dear Evan Hansen situation.)
Director Jon M. Chu brought us the triumphant film adaptation of In The Heights, so his Broadway-to-Hollywood credentials are solid.
Erivo, meanwhile, is just an O short of an EGOT, missing out from her two nominations in 2019 for Harriet. Perhaps the power of “Defying Gravity” could be enough for the British-born star to finally win over the Academy.