Something wicked this way comes. Or coming.
Twice, as a matter of fact, in two parts and a season apart.
That’s director Jon Chu’s plan to convert the movie version of the Broadway musical, “Wicked” — which still is drawing audiences in New York — into a two-parter.
So the long-anticipated screen rendering, which will star Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo, as Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, respectively, will be watched with bated breath. Either the plan will be a thunderous hit or a thudding dud.
Putting it another way: this will be the longest “intermission” for one movie divided into two, an industry first.
If nothing else, it’s a worrisome situation, and a trial balloon, particularly since movie musicals lately have become financial failures, despite rave reviews and clearly an indication of a withering audience base, largely because it’s the elderly folks who generally watch musicals but have stopped going to the cinema, partially because of the shutdown of theaters and made going back harder with time.
Most youths, however, are not musical fanatics, perhaps not since “Rent,” which had the rock beat that spoke to them like no other show.
You can’t fault Grande and Erivo, in this prequel to “The Wizard or Oz” story. The division of one into two doesn’t seem practical. Chu isn’t doing a sequel or a prequel; it’ one story, and he’s altering the dynamics by making it into two. The roles were famously created by Kristin Chenowith and Idina Mendel on the Great White Way,
Chu, in a Twitter post, declared that the pandemic-delayed musical, wlll be a two-parter, the initial part premiering as a Universal Pictures project on Dec. 25, 2024. The second wave will arrive a year later, on Dec. 25, 2025, hopefully without health and world issues intervening.
“As we prepared the production over the last year, it became impossible to wrestle the story of ‘Wicked’ into a single film without doing some real damage to it,” Chu wrote in a statement.
“As we tried to cut songs or trim characters, those decisions began to feel like fatal compromises to the source material that has entertained us all for so many years. We decided to give ourselves a bigger canvas and make not just one ‘Wicked’ movie but two!
“With more space, we can tell the story of ‘Wicked’ as it was meant to be told while bringing even more depth and surprise to the journeys for these beloved characters.
Chu has not been paying attention to the fate of high-profile, hit musicals of the recent past, that have struggled at the box office despite positive media reviews. Interestingly, the last film Chu directed was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning inspirational “In the Heights,” which was a grand, dance-fueled homage to the Puerto Rican Washington Heights locale in New York, but the marketing failed the product. It streamed on HBO Max but also played in movie houses to enthusiastic reviews but dreadful attendance, with a meager $44 million gross world-wide.
Then there was director Steven Spielberg’s high-budget interpretation of the music of Leonard Bernstein’s Oscar-winning “West Side Story,” with lyrics, if you recall, by Stephen Sondheim. While Ariana DeBose as the new Anita earned a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award, the film was one that couldn’t generate crowds. In simple terms, it was box office bomb: An artistic winner, but a box office loser. The film grossed only $75.9 million globally, when it needed $300 million to break even.
The reflection on why or how both award-winning resources seemed to assert that audiences weren’t keen about movie musicals anymore is debatable. But these song-and-dance fests appeal to the older generation, which rarely support filmed musicals anymore.
The last big Hollywood film musical was the Hugh Jackman-led “Les Miserables,” an undeniable hit as a staged musical, which grossed $441 million world-wide. The title is routinely staged in theaters, occasionally rebooted on Broadway, so it has built-in followers, a plus nowadays for filmed movie musicals.
Clearly, there are varying theories about why musicals don’t attract movie fans. One, it has to be a hot attraction. Remember the movie version of the stage musical, “Hamilton,” was held hostage for more than a year, but was delayed as a theatrical product and released at the height of the pandemic as a streaming title for Disney+, where show creator Miranda has his hands and toes in assorted Disney endeavors. The streaming was a great shot for Disney+, which earned huge numbers of new fans, possibly folks who couldn’t afford to see “Hamilton” on stage because of the unaffordable premium prices that plagued the show for several years.
Initially, 7.8 million watched the “Hamilton” stream, reaching 3.9 million households, upping Disney+ subscribers to 60.5 million. These figures are from secondary sources, since Disney remains mum about its hits or misses. Since a Disney+ membership also included Hulu and ESPN access, the deal was, simply, “affordable.”
Miranda, of course, continues to pump up his creativity at the Mouse House, the most recent being the unexpected streaming hit, “Encanto,” with the unintended runaway hit song,”We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” a title that wasn’t submitted for Oscar contention yet evolved into the first Oscarcast show to feature a full-fledged performance of a non-nominated tune, because, well, it would generate high viewership. (The actual reason: Van Morrison, by choice, declined to perform his nominated song because he was on tour, so there was a time slot for another song, and Disney, which owns ABC, opted to wedge in “Bruno,” and it worked.)
The upcoming “Wicked” is based on the Broadway show, adapted by Winnie Holzman, adapted from Gregory Maguire’s novel, “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.” It runs for 2 hours and 45 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission, so one wonders how many more minutes, or hours, Chun will need to package the drama the tunes into halves. The music and lyrics are by Stephen Schwartz, who will provide the screenplay for the film, and it’s quite possible he could create one or two more tunes, to justify extra running time while yielding a dose of freshness. Producer Marc Platt, who produced the stage show, will also produce the movie and its two halves and might certainly seek a larger budget to justify two parts vs. one.
Traditionally, it’s old hat for for movies to offer sequels, prequels, and more spin-offs than imaginable; think of George Lucas‘ “Star Wars” back-and-forth franchise, along with the blockbuster “Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark” series, the “Superman” remakes and sequels, the “Spiderman” brand with different lead webb-makers and even the “Jurassic Park” dinosaur adventures that still keep roaring along with the unending Marvel superhero adventures that ride the crest periodically. Like the “Batman” bounty, no need to label ’em 1, 2 or 3. Those classic “James Bond” and “Pink Panther” comedies were never sequels, merely different tales built on a centerpiece character popular with movie fans. Ditto, the “Fast and Furious” catalogue. You can scour for more similar films that gave birth to another film or a third.
But this two-part “Wicked” endeavor is a first to split one resource to configure a Part 1 and Part 2. Presumably, the whole will be sliced into two, running times to be determined, but a second installment won’t be a sequel, but will be a conclusion of the storytelling. “The End’ still is two years away. …
And that’s Show Biz, …