EXCLUSIVE: The smash hit stage musical Wicked is taking its first formative steps toward the movie screen. I’m told the musical’s producer Marc Platt, book writer Winnie Holzman, and songwriter Stephen Schwartz have begun meeting with filmmakers. Insiders confirm that JJ Abrams, James Mangold, Ryan Murphy, and Rob Marshall are among the directors who’ve met or otherwise thrown their hat in the ring. More meetings will take place when the musical’s authors come to town in the fall. The film will be made at Universal, which produced the stage musical with Platt.
After the billion dollar gross of Alice In Wonderland, studios are combing their fairy tale books for classics. It’s crowded on the Oz front –Disney attached Sam Raimi to The Great and Powerful Oz, and Warner Bros has more than one film in development. But the $2 billion in global stage grosses for Wicked put it in league with Mamma Mia!, the long-running stage musical whose movie transfer grossed over $600 million worldwide for Universal.
Wicked, a 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 flying 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 eight touring companies. The Broadway musical routinely tops the weekly gross charts–$1.4 million per week is average, but the musical has broken the $2 million mark more than once. The musical shows no signs of winding down, the reason its architects haven’t been in a rush to mount a movie — until now.
As for the directors on the list, Abrams is an intriguing choice despite never having done a musical (he’s composed themes for several of his series’ creations). Knight and Day director Mangold is also a musical newcomer, though he directed the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line. Murphy has put himself on the musical map with Glee, on which he’s not only exec producer but executive music producer. Marshall has the lengthiest musical resume having directed and choreographed Annie and the Oscar-winning Chicago. But he is coming off the misfire Nine, a film that had Platt among its producers.
The movie can’t come soon enough for Universal, which has several musicals in the works. The studio is trying to mount a Mamma Mia! sequel, is eye-ing a new version of Billy Elliot based on the successful stage musical (Universal is one of its producers). The studio is also working on a movie transfer of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, recently hiring Kenny Ortega aboard as director and choreographer. Ortega directed the High School Musical trilogy and the Michael Jackson docu This Is It.