WICKED musical; James Mangold, J.J. Abrams & more meet with Universal over directing duties

Almost two years ago we reported that Wicked, the intolerable but popular stage musical based loosely on both Gregory Maguire's Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West and L. Frank Baum's classic fantasy novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was set for a long-awaited cinematic adaptation from Wanted producer Marc Platt. Then quiet. Not a word would be spoken of it again until last Friday, when Deadline reported that Platt (and writer Winnie Holzman, and songwriter Stephen Schwartzhad) had met with James Mangold, J.J. Abrams, Ryan Murphy and Rob Marshall over the directing duties, with more meetings to come with other names in the fall. No doubt Universal sparked interest in making the film once again after the baffling success of Tim Burton's recent take on Alice In Wonderland, and with Disney ramping up their re-imagining/prequel The Great and Powerful Oz (potentially with Robert Downey Jr and Sam Raimi) and Warner Bros. having at least two Oz projects in development. After all, no studio likes to lose out on current trends, especially with a proven fanbase already in place. Wicked tells the story of a friendship between two students, Glinda and Elphaba, from Shiz University (we aren't making this up) who form an unlikely bond. After an encounter with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz they separate and follow individual paths to fulfill their personal destinies. The stage show has broken records worldwide since it€™s Broadway debut in 2003, taking in over $2 billion and spanning eight productions with weekly-gross-taking records in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and London. Looking at the canon of directors, Rob Marshall, a go-to-director of musicals (Nine, Chicago and Moulin Rouge), is possibly the closest match to the stylistics and genre of this project. However, as production on Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides has only just begun, he may not be available, or indeed ready to move into another giant-sized film so quickly. And if Nine told us anything it's that; A) Marshall has no imagination to take a musical out of the stage and B) He can't always be trusted to bring a return despite a popular cast. Though with his reputation pretty much destroyed from his Oscar nominated days, he won't be adverse to a paycheck (you might say he already took one helming a Jack Sparrow centric adventure) and we wouldn't be surprised if he is Universal's top choice for this. Ryan Murphy likewise seems a fitting choice. Not only has his hit series Glee propelled him to stratospheric levels of fame, but with his Julia Roberts starrer Eat, Pray, Love set to open toward the end of the year he's, despite being somewhat of a novice director, got ample experience in the blending of audio and visuals department. Just maybe he hasn't got a lot of good experience in this field, however Wicked isn't exactly a project with testing themes. JJ Abrams, being the wild-card of the bunch, is definitely the most intriguing director on the list and, after having re-tooled Star Trek to appeal to new-age cinema-goers, whilst also pleasing die-hard fans, he could be just what Universal are looking for to open up the Wicked brand to a new audience. But J.J. Abrams directing a musical in 2010 would be like Steven Spielberg making one after Close Encounters of the Third Kind, so we highly doubt it. Maybe Abrams wanted some company over lunch because his Mission Impossible star Tom Cruise was busy crying into his soup over not being a major box office draw anymore, and he humoured Universal with a sit-down chat. We would be amazed if he directed this, and honestly, we can't see him personally directing anything until Star Trek 2, which will film next year. He's busy being mega producer-man for now. James Mangold would also be a newcomer to musicals, but he did make Walk The Line, a biopic of Johnny Cash. Also having made Knight & Day after 3:10 to Yuma - it's awfully hard to predict where the hat of this talented, genre-hopper will fall next. We like Mangold but he's better than this, and better than Knight & Day actually. Nevertheless, it's apparent that whoever eventually takes on this project will have to battle with die-hard fans, Hollywood's watchful eye and the weight on their shoulders to ensure it's a success, and doesn't flop. Wicked, being an almost $2 million brand, is one I'm sure Universal will want to nurture with care, but also initiate production as soon as physically possible. Though we know it won't for a while at least as the second batch of meetings won't take place until the fall.

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