Side profile of main characters from Wicked.

‘Wicked’ May Show the Possibilities — and Hazards — of Adapting Broadway Musicals for the Screen

Many are excited for the adaptation of the beloved musical, but the negative reviews of 'Dear Evan Hansen' reveal the difficulties with putting such productions on the silver screen.
March 15, 2022
11 mins read

“What is this feeling? Fervid as a flame, does it have a name?” It does — it’s excitement, for the film adaptation of the Broadway musical “Wicked.” “Wicked” is the fifth longest-running Broadway musical, having opened in 2003 and now held at the Gershwin Theater. The timeless classic has won numerous awards and appeals to both the young and old, as well as anyone who is a fan of the standard narrative that has been turned on its head — in this case, “The Wizard of Oz.”

“Wicked” explores a time when the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch were friends, who are known as Elphaba and Galinda respectively in the musical. Based on Gregory Maguire’s novel “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” the production tells the story of how Elphaba ultimately became wicked and Galinda came to be revered as good. The musical’s 19 songs and witty dialogue convey a touching message about how our assumptions about people may be false because everyone has their own story.

A film adaptation of the famous musical has been in the works for several years. Originally slated for release in December 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed production. While there is still no definitive release date, we know some things about the upcoming film. In November, it was announced that Cynthia Erivo would portray Elphaba and Ariana Grande would portray Galinda. Both took to Instagram to express excitement over scoring the role of a lifetime.

Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel originally portrayed these roles in the original Broadway run. Chenoweth served as Grande’s team’s advisor on “The Voice” this past season and wrote to Grande on Instagram, “I’m not sure if I’ve ever been this proud. From the very first day I met you … you were destined for this role“; Menzel tweeted, “Congrats to two amazing women. May it change your lives forever and ever as it has for us.” The “Wicked” movie will be directed by Jon M. Chu, known for Lin Manuel-Miranda’s “In the Heights” and “Crazy Rich Asians.” He wrote a heartfelt message on Twitter about his excitement to bring this particular story to life, particularly because he, too, has often felt different and “green.”

Many are excited for the upcoming film adaptation, especially long-time fans of the musical. “Wicked” will join the roster of Broadway musicals turned into movies, such as “Cats,” “Les Miserables” and most recently, “Dear Evan Hansen.” It is the latter that prompts the question of whether “Wicked” will translate successfully from the stage to the screen, as many fans of “Dear Evan Hansen” were disappointed with the corresponding film. Musical productions are vastly different than movies: Does that mean that the film adaptations will be less loved and less likely to compel fans to watch over and over again compared to their Broadway counterparts?

The first thing to take into consideration is that “Wicked” has a fantastical set, plot and costume design. Unlike “Dear Evan Hansen,” which centers on modern-day high-schoolers, “Wicked” features a moving dragon, a professor who’s a goat, a character that travels via bubble and one who has emerald-green skin and lots of magic. It will be interesting to see all of the whimsy that makes “Wicked” great within a film. While some things may be lost in translation, I have little doubt that the feelings evoked by the Broadway set design and the literal magic that’s woven throughout the plot will remain intact.

Due to advances in CGI and special effects, a movie might even be able to go in directions that a Broadway production simply cannot. “Oz the Great and Powerful,Disney’s reimagining of the origin story of the titular Wizard of Oz, made good use of both. What’s potentially worrisome is that, like with many film adaptations, unfavorable changes will be made in the “Wicked” movie similar to those found in the “Dear Evan Hansen” film; for example, some of the changes in “Dear Evan Hansen” were minor and arguably didn’t impact the story in any significant way, while others, like the addition of new songs and the exclusion of fan-favorites, had a tremendous impact.

However, all hope is not lost for the “Wicked” film. While I was initially upset by some changes made in the “Dear Evan Hansen” movie, after watching it in its entirety, I was pleasantly surprised. In my opinion, there was little that couldn’t be justified by the need to condense the convoluted plot into a two-hour timeframe. Erivo has indicated that the plot of the “Wicked” movie will deviate slightly from the musical, as they put their “own spin” on the story.

It has also been revealed that at least four new songs will appear in the film — three written specifically for the movie and one that didn’t make it in the original Broadway show. New music is an exciting addition as “Wicked” has been around for a long time. Therefore, new songs would provide a fun update to a classic show. As long as major changes aren’t made to the plot, the movie should be great.

Another thing that upset fans of the “Dear Evan Hansen” musical was the casting of Ben Platt as the title character. It wasn’t anything against Platt’s performance so much as his age. Some fans felt Platt was too old at 28 to play a 17-year-old high school senior. They argued he certainly didn’t look like a high schooler and thus could not convincingly portray one. Only Erivo and Grande have been confirmed to be in the “Wicked” movie cast, and while neither was a part of the Broadway cast, age doesn’t seem to be a problem as both roles offer leeway in that department.

The reaction of people who had seen the “Dear Evan Hansen” movie but not the Broadway version underscores the hazards of adapting a musical for the silver screen. Admittedly, the plot of “Dear Evan Hansen” sounds strange without any context. Sure enough, while the Broadway musical was lauded for its powerful, moving message about both the outsider in everyone as well as mental health, some considered the movie to be insensitive to topics such as teen suicide.

Arguably, a film adaptation can feel bizarre and even off-putting without the original context of the stage. I felt the “Dear Evan Hansen” movie was a great adaptation of the musical and was pleasantly surprised by the changes that were made — ultimately, I thought the alterations created an even greater awareness of mental health issues with necessary moments of comedy and levity. However, I’m not sure how I would have felt about it if I had never seen the musical. If the beautiful message of “Dear Evan Hansen” was so lost in translation by those who hadn’t first seen the musical on Broadway, does the same danger lie in store for “Wicked”?

Evidently, many factors can determine whether a Broadway musical can truly evoke the same feelings in its audiences when adapted into a film. If it cannot, producers might be better off professionally filming the Broadway show and putting it out on selected streaming platforms. Such a maneuver was executed with “Hamilton” when the recording of the Broadway show featuring the original cast was released on Disney+ in 2020. Audiences got to enjoy the beloved musical with the original cast members they’d come to revere all from the comfort of their own homes. Whether “Wicked” is a flop or a complete success, I can’t wait to watch what the film brings while secure in the knowledge that my amazing experience seeing it on Broadway will always remain intact.

Debbie Aspromonti, Hofstra University

Writer Profile

Debbie Aspromonti

Hofstra University
Literatures in English

Debbie is a senior Literatures in English major at Hofstra University. She loves to write and is passionate about books, Broadway musicals, social issues and the law.

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