EXCLUSIVE: Stephen Daldry has exited as the director of Wicked, Universal’s long awaited screen adaptation of the smash hit stage musical. Sources tell Deadline that the studio wants this movie mounted more quickly than Daldry was comfortable moving. Also, there was a shortage of stage space in London that will make it not possible to shoot the film there, something that was important to Daldry.
I’m told Daldry’s exit is amicable and becomes another creative casualty of the pandemic. Universal is back out looking for directors and it instantly becomes one of the more coveted Open Directing Assignments out there right now. The studio hopes to begin production late next year. Songwriter Stephen Schwartz and book writer Winnie Holzman teamed on the script and Marc Platt, who produces the stage musical with David Stone, is lead producer on the film.
Universal certainly has been patient on this one, mainly because the studio has a stake in the stage musical, which continues to be a financial juggernaut. No stage musical movie adaptation is a guaranteed hit — Cats is the cautionary tale — but this has to be as close to a surefire hit as any musical adaptation percolating at a studio.
The Wizard of Oz prequel is based on the Gregory Maguire novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, and focuses on the early relationship between Glinda the Good and Elphaba, a green-skinned beauty before she ended up a flying hag on a broomstick. Wicked began as a movie development project with Platt and Universal, before they changed course and took it to the stage first. It was an immediate sensation, quickly recouping its $14 million capitalization in 2004 and becoming one of the biggest grossing tuners of all time, with the Broadway show and all the touring companies.
There should be no small list of filmmakers interested. Back in 2010, Deadline revealed that when the musical first began its trek toward the movies, JJ Abrams, James Mangold, Ryan Murphy, and Rob Marshall were among the directors who met or threw their hat in the ring. And the creative community is buzzing that Steven Spielberg is looking to find a directing vehicle, this after wrapping West Side Story.