Well Internet, it’s happening. We did it. After years of possibles, maybes, and kind of’s we finally convinced Hollywood to give us Wicked (the movie.) Granted Hollywood is taking their sweet time about it (December of 2019?? I will probably have died in some sort of crazed Zombie Chinchilla mishap by then Hollywood! What are you thinking?? Of course, I can’t stop the experiments, Chinchillas ain’t gonna Chin-Zombie themselves!!)
Anyway, aside from the fact that somebody needs to be on the phone with Anna Kendrick and Emma Stone from now until they agree to be in this movie (and no I don’t care which of the two leads they play as long as we get both of them) let’s take a few minutes and look at some past examples of musicals and some things we can learn (and avoid) from them.
(I am by no means an expert in Wicked by the way. I took my wife to it last year and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It’s a great, fun play with some awesome songs. I even went out and the read the book the play is based on and not only is the book WAAAAY different from the play, it is also dramatically and terribly worse. If the musical is a four-course dinner the book is the dirty rag used to clean up the table after the food is eaten. It’s real real bad. Anyway… on with the show… blog. Thing.)
The Rent rule. Look, Rent (the movie) isn’t a bad re-interpretation of the stage play but the main thing I got from watching Rent was “Man… these people look old.” See, the thing about stage productions is the audience is REAL far away, and you’re wearing literal layers of makeup, it doesn’t matter if you’re 40 years old playing a 21-year-old, as far as most of the audience is concerned you’re just some vague shape making sounds. Movies though (and brace yourself for this) are different from stage productions, and a WHOLE lot closer. Rent didn’t look like a bunch of young 20-year-olds trying to make it in a world that didn’t understand them, it looked like a bunch of 40-year-olds who REALLY wanted to be twenty but should also probably just go get a job and pay the rent like the rest of us. My point is: Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth won’t be (and shouldn’t be) walking through that door. They are fantastic, talented woman, but unless we animate this thing there’s no way we buy them as high school/early college students (P.S. Don’t animate this.)
The Chicago Principal.
Chicago won basically all the academy awards and it did that by absolutely stacking the cast with Hollywood talent, and not really caring whether or not people “bought” the singing. Some directors get very caught up in the “Well WHY are these people singing” quandary when the answer is “because this is a musical… so shut-up.” Chicago owned the music by basically just going “Here’s this song now guys… we’re a musical.” But back to the casting for a sec: Wicked is a tough play to cast because aside from Elphaba and G(a)linda there’s really not a ton for anyone else to do. Very few of the rest of the cast gets anything even vaguely resembling a spotlight so they might not be able to attract the kind of A-list talent that Chicago pulled in. Yet another reason they need to go all in on the two stars, that’s where the tickets are.
The Producers Problem. You remember the Producers right?? Fun play, good cast, fun music, painfully terrible movie. Just… so bad. So what went wrong?? Well, first off (and this is tricky) stage humor and film humor are actually very different things. You can get away with things on stage that you can’t on film because the stage has a more community minded feel. If you’re in the crowd for a stage play you’re rooting hardcore for the jokes to work and if they don’t work it’s VERY awkward because the actors telling the jokes are literally right there. It’s a different feel in a movie theater, this isn’t something Wicked needs to worry a ton about because it isn’t (primarily) a comedy. There are funny sections to be sure but Wicked gets by on its music and characters and those tend to translate VERY well to film (as long as you cast right.)
The Les Mis Missive. You remember the Les Miserables movie right? Look, some people loved it, some people hated it, and me I was just sort of ‘meh’ on the whole thing. It existed, the story was good, the singing was… okay… and Amanda Seyfried was her usual terrible self. I think the big takeaway from Les Mis for Wicked is that people really will notice if your actors don’t nail the music. Almost to the point where you should be more worried about that than you are about the acting. I mean I know nothing about music but even I noticed that Hugh Jackmen (who I love) got owned by Bring Him Home. Like that song took Hugh out to the woodshed, and I’m not even going to talk about the fact that Russell Crowe basically sounded like he was trying to repress a sneeze for the entire movie. I know NOTHING about music, and the music in Les Mis was distracting to me.
So I guess in the end what I learned making this VERY weird list is that the casting for Wicked (and most specifically it’s two leads) has got to be spot on. It’s a play that hinges on those two parts and those two voices more than anything else and if you miss with those you’re making something rotten (though not nearly as rotten as the book this is based on.) So there you go, Internet, I just wrote a thousand words on a musical that comes out more than two years from now. And you read all those words. Even these words, which aren’t even really saying anything, they’re just words to add to the word count.
Also: I stand by Emma Stone and Anna Kendrick for this. Stonedrick?? Emna?? This isn’t working at all is it? Well, I’ve got two years I guess…