Wicked is one of the most popular musicals around, playing on Broadway for nearly 13 years and is the 10th longest running music in the famous theater district. It has played on the West End since 2006 and has been performed in numerous major cities from Sydney to Seoul, to Sao Paulo. It made stars out of its two leads, Idina Menzel, and Kristin Chenoweth.
Based on the 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of West by Gregory Maguire – which was itself a reinterpretation of L. Frank Baum’s Oz series giving The Wicked Witch of the West a sympathetic backstory and changing the world of Oz. It was adapted into a musical by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman and started in San Francisco before moving to New York.
Universal bought the film rights in 2004 and production for the movie began in 2012. Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot) is set to direct with Holzman writing the screenplay. But progress has been very, very slow.
A Wicked adaptation would still be a big hit, and Elphaba would be one of the most sought-after roles in Hollywood. The role would require someone with a powerful singing voice with the acting ability to show her as a social outcast to student activity, and to rebelling against the Wizard’s tyranny. It is a role for a star or an up-and-comer, so let’s look at five young actresses who could play the iconic character.
Kicking off this list is English actress Gemma Arterton. At 30-years-old Arterton has proven herself to a very talented actress, appeared in numerous movies, ranging from comedies to dramas to action flicks.
Early on in her career Arterton was seen as a star in the making, starring in the rebooted St Trinian’s series, Quantum of Solace, Clash of the Titans and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, but in recent years she has focused on appearing in indie films. She deserves a second chance at stardom and leading Wicked! could be a way to do it.
It would be easy to picture Arterton being painted green. She has also lead the musical adaptation of Made in Dagenham on the West End. An actor or actress needs to have serious singing chops to perform on such a big stage (no pun intended). She was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award and Whatonstage.com Award for Best Actress. Arterton also played a singing teacher in the British dramedy Song for Marion.
Arterton is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), and her roles have shown she can be charming and witty and be more tortured when required. She would be a safe pair of hands for the role.
The Isle of Man’s Samantha Barks is often a fan favorite to play Elphaba, and she is my personal top choice for the role. Most audience members will know Barks for her role as Éponine in 2012’s Les Misérables, beating out singers like Lea Michele and Taylor Swift.
Barks first came to prominence in the UK when she competed in I’d Do Anything, a prime-time reality show where the winner was cast in a West End revival of Oliver! Barks was one of the favorites to win the show and one of her standout performances was “Defying Gravity” where she was mentored by Idina Menzel. It was a fantastic performance where Barks showcased her powerful voice. Please note she was only 17 at the time.
Barks also has performed in a number musicals, including UK and Ireland tours of Cabaret and Oliver!, the 25th Anniversary Concert for Les Misérables at The O2 Arena and a musical adaptation of Amélie at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in California. Throughout her career Barks has shown herself to be a stellar singer and stage actress and could handle the big songs in Wicked. She has naturally dark hair and at 25 is the right age to play Elphaba as a college student and become the Wicked Witch of the West when she gets older within the story.
So far Barks’ film credits are sparse, besides Les Misérables her only other credit is the Christian movie The Christmas Candle. However she is set to appear in the British ensemble drama A Hundred Streets with Idris Elba and Gemma Arterton and the Canadian musical Strike!
Anna Kendrick is one of the few actresses who could play either play Elphaba or Glinda – even Kristin Chenoweth said it when she was interviewed by Digital Spy. Kendrick is a popular actress, having more than five million twitter followers and starred in numerous movies like End of Watch, 50/50, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Up in the Air (which earned her an Oscar nomination).
Kendrick is also a very talented singer, she performed on Broadway and was nominated for a Tony Award for her role in High Society. Some of Kendrick biggest film roles have been in musicals, she leads the Pitch Perfect series, played Cinderella in Into the Woods, starred in The Last Five Years and her first film role was in the independent musical Camp.
Kendrick’s public persona is a bubbly and likable young woman, and she could easily portray the college-aged Elphaba as an idealistically, adorkable young woman who sees the horrible truth that affects the most vulnerable citizens of Oz. She could also have great chemistry with whoever plays her frenemy Glinda and playboy Fiyero, who is a lot deeper then he lets on. Kendrick is 30-years-old, but she looks a lot younger and could still play a college-aged character.
However Kendrick has a preference for starring in indie films than big studio movies and when speaking with The Wrap in 2014 she said she was done with musicals. However if Universal were able to convince Kendrick to star in another musical, she would be a great all-rounder as a singer and actress.
Glee star Lea Michele is often seen as one of the frontrunners to play Elphaba, and there is a good reason- she is a proven singer on the stage and screen. Since starring as Rachel Berry on the Fox show, Michele gained a reputation for singing big numbers, in the pilot, she sang “On My Own” and afterward sang everything from big show numbers to pop songs. She is perfectly capable of belting out songs like “Defying Gravity” and “No Good Deals”.
Michele also has one very big advantages that none of the other actors have: Idina Menzel played her birth mother in Glee. Michele and Menzel do have a similar look and in Glee they performed a couple of duels in the first season.
Michele could easily handle the singing, but she has few other acting credits. Her biggest roles being in Scream Queens and New Year’s Eve. Michele also has a reputation for being a diva, which could lead to a disrupted set, especially if Michele has to work with big name actors. Plus diva is not a word to describe Elphaba.
Last but not least is Northern Irish singer/actress Rachel Tucker – an actress who played Elphaba on the West End and is now leading Wicked on Broadway. That alone gives Ms. Tucker a significant advantage over any other candidate – playing the character on two of the biggest theater scenes in the world. She has won a lot of praise for her performance in London and New York. She states on her Twitter page she paints herself green for a living.
Like Samantha Barks, Tucker came to prominence on I’d Do Anything, and although she did not win Tucker has had a very successful theater career, leading shows like We Will Rock You and The Last Ship. Tucker learned her craft at the Royal Academy of Music.
Although Tucker is not very well known to movie fans, theater actors have reprised their roles for film adaptations like Rent, Jersey Boys and The History Boys.
However, Tucker is the oldest candidate on this list, being 35-years-old. That’s perfectly fine for her to play the older version of Elphaba when she accepts the mantle of Wicked, but might be a stretch when she has to play college age Elphaba.