With the long-awaited notice that Wicked will officially be made into a feature film, the question has arisen as to who will play the main characters. It has been said that Lea Michelle is the leading favorite for one of the main roles, and this makes sense. Michelle is long known to have a shocking resemblance to Idina Menzel, the original Broadway Elphaba. This resemblance is so strong that Menzel was tapped to play Michelle's birth mother in "Glee".
While, undoubtedly, Michelle would do a good job, there is absolutely no reason for the original actors, Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth to NOT reprise their original roles. There was, despite rumors of feuds, no doubt that there was chemistry between the two, and their performances were heralded to the point that both were nominated for the Leading Actress in a Musical Tony (which eventually went to Menzel).
There are two major reasons why the original Broadway Actors do not reprise their roles in film. Firstly, there are worries about the difference in age between the actor when they appeared in the show, and when the movie was made, and secondly there is often name-recognition issues. In this case, I believe, both arguments are invalid.
Looking first at the age issue, this should not be an issue. I understand that Menzel and Chenoweth are over a decade older than they were at the time of their Broadway run, but I don't believe this should be an issue. In a world where we are expected to believe that Barbra Streisand is young enough to be the biological mother of a teen girl in the 1920s (Streisand is 73 years old), then why can we not have two women in their late 40s playing college kids. We were already supposed to believe that Streisand was supposed to be a world weary widow and matchmaker in the ill-fated "Hello Dolly!" film. Dame Helen Mirren played a young Elizabeth I in a TV miniseries, when she was in her 60s to great acclaim (and an Emmy Award).
Film and Television are filled with accounts of actors and actresses playing younger. Stockard Channing played a High-School Rizzo in "Grease" when she was 34. Calista Flockhart was convincing 18 year old in the Birdcage (she was 31). I recall no complaining about the then-27 year old Tobey Maguire portraying a 17 year old Peter Parker in Spiderman. And finally Sissy Spasek was haunting playing the High School student, Carrie. Spacek was 26.
So if not age, then why else would Chenoweth and Menzel be passed over for these film roles? The other major argument which arises when musicals go to film is name recognition. The most stark example of this was a fairly unknown Julie Andrews being passed over for Audrey Hepburn in the film version of "My Fair Lady". Though, in the long run, Andrews got the role as Mary Poppins, which won her an Oscar. Had she not been passed over for Eliza Doolittle, she would not have gotten that role. I doubt she is upset about this. TRUE theater buffs will know that Jessica Tandy (Driving Miss Daisy) was the original Blanche Du Bois in "A Streetcar Named Desire" when it premiered in 1947. She was heralded for her performance, but less than a decade later, when the film was produced, it was Vivian Leigh who portrayed Ms. Du Bois. Ok, granted Leigh was brilliant, and won an Oscar for her portrayal, but this example only goes to show that Tandy, who probably would have been equally brilliant, was passed over due to name recognition.
That being said, the situation is vastly different than it was back then. Yes Andrews and Tandy were heralded for their Broadway performances, but Hollywood is on the other coast, and their fame had not spread that far. The same cannot be said for Chenoweth, and especially Menzel.
Kristen Chenoweth is an actor that theater fans love. She is also recognizable from TV performances. In fact, her performances are wide ranging. Younger viewers know her from her somewhat inebriated character on "Glee." Drama fans know her from her Emmy winning role on the Dramedy "Pushing Dasies." And she had a stunning turn as a White House staffer and Campaign Press Secretary in "The West Wing." Also, given her distinct size (or at under 5' tall, lack thereof), Chenoweth is a face, if not a name, familiar to many.
The case for Idina Menzel is even easier to make. And I will make it in ONE word: "Frozen." I know, I am glossing over a long and successful career, "Rent", "Enchanted" (Where, she was one of the only actors NOT to sing), and like Chenoweth a turn as Lea Michelle's Birth Mother on "Glee" have made Menzel a face which is recognizable. Even with that, however, SHE IS PRINCESS ELSA FROM "FROZEN!!!" SHE IS THE SINGER OF "LET IT GO". Love it or hate it, that song is the Disney anthem of this decade. Add to this her vial fame thanks to John Travolta calling her "Adele Dazim" at the Oscars, and people know who Idina Menzel is.
The years have been good to both actresses. I hate to bring it to this, but both women still look fantastic, and given the makeup necessary for both parts, they could easily play their original roles. If Streisand can play Mama Rose, they can play Elphaba and Glinda. People know who they are, and there is a chemistry between them that is undeniable. You can't guarantee that chemistry in other parings (Bea Arthur and Lucy Ball in "Mame" anyone?). This movie will be an easy hit. Rarely is there a musical more made to be on the big screen than "Wicked."
If you have a guaranteed hit, and there are two lead actresses who, frankly, rocked the roles originally, and these actresses have the ability to still play the roles, then why reinvent the wheel?