‘Wicked’ Movie Cast: Cynthia Erivo and Ariana Grande’s Broadway History Gives Them a Unique Connection

There’s been some excitement over casting here at Shiz! The Wicked movie cast will star Cynthia Erivo and Ariana Grande as Elphaba and Galinda in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical. The movie will be directed by In The Heights director Jon M. Chu. Erivo and Grande’s Broadway roots run deep. And the theatrical work they’ve done in recent years has made their degree of separation from each other smaller and smaller since 2016. Let’s break down their Broadway history, how Erivo and Grande are connected, and why their casting in the Wicked movie is so exciting.

A joined photo of Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo
(L-R) Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo | David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images; Elisabetta A. Villa/Getty Images

Cynthia Erivo is playing Elphaba in the ‘Wicked’ movie cast: Her Broadway history

If you don’t know who Erivo is, get familiar. The 34-year-old star rose to fame in 2016 when she made her Broadway debut in The Color Purple revival alongside Jennifer Hudson and Orange is the New Black‘s Danielle Brooks. Her unforgettable performance as Celie resulted in her first Tony nomination and win at the 2017 Tony Awards — the same year Hamilton won Best Musical. Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Daveed Diggs made history that year. It was the first time in Broadway history that Black actors won all four musical acting categories.

Erivo didn’t just win a Tony for The Color Purple. She also won an Emmy and a Grammy, making her an Oscar away from reaching EGOT status. Erivo was nominated for Best Actress at the 2020 Oscars for her performance as Harriet Tubman in Harriet. She was also nominated for Best Original Song that year for “Stand Up.” This was the first time an actor was nominated for Best Actress and Best Original Song in the same year.

Erivo is one of the best singers working today. She’ll tackle Elphaba’s iconic (and famously difficult!) songs like “Defying Gravity” and “No Good Deed” with expert skill. On top of her being an excellent choice for the role, this casting will challenge Wicked‘s casting history. Since the show opened on Broadway in 2003, no Black actors have been cast to play Elphaba full-time. Alexia Khadime is the only Black actor to do so. But she was in the West End production in London, not on Broadway.

Other Black women have been Elphaba standbys and have gone on in the main cast’s absence. And Black women have played Elphaba on national tours. But that’s enough. Hopefully, Erivo’s casting in the Wicked movie will push Wicked on Broadway to fix this serious issue.

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Ariana Grande got her start on Broadway and has a special connection to ‘Wicked’

As for Grande, her career started on Broadway. Grande was cast in the Broadway musical 13, created by Jason Robert Brown. She was a young teen at the time. The musical also starred Elizabeth Gillies, Grande’s Victorious co-star. Grande hasn’t been in a Broadway cast since, but she did play Penny Pingleton in Hairspray Live.

Grande has remained close with Brown over the years and performed at a cabaret with him and Shoshana Bean in 2016. Bean and Erivo frequently collaborate. In 2019, they performed a holiday concert, “Night Divine,” at New York City’s Apollo Theater. Erivo also starred in a concert production of Brown’s The Last Five Years alongside Tick, Tick… BOOM! actor Joshua Henry. Grande performed “Still Hurting” from The Last Five Years at a virtual concert Brown staged during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic lockdown. It was only a matter of time before Grande and Erivo’s degree of separation dwindled to nothing.

Grande also has a special connection to Wicked. When she was a teenager, she got to see Wicked on Broadway and go backstage to meet Kristin Chenoweth, the original Galinda. (Idina Menzel was the original Elphaba.) Since then, Grande and Chenoweth have been close friends, with Chenoweth being a mentor of sorts for Grande. Most recently, Grande brought Chenoweth on as a guest coach on The Voice.

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‘Wicked’ movie cast, release date

In 2011, Grande tweeted about Galinda being her dream role.

“Loved seeing Wicked again…amazing production!” she tweeted. “Made me realize again how badly I want to 2 play Glinda at some point in my life! #DreamRole.”

Chenoweth hasn’t publicly responded to Grande’s casting news. But Menzel tweeted her support for Grande and Erivo. Menzel won her first Tony for playing Elphaba in 2004. Chenoweth was also nominated that year.

“Congrats to two amazing women,” she said. “May it change your lives for the better forever and ever as it has for us. So much love.”

The social media response to Erivo and Grande’s casting has been overwhelmingly positive as well. Broadway and pop music fans alike seem to very excited by Chu’s casting choices. While there’s no official release date for the Wicked movie yet, casting the lead roles is a huge step forward. The movie has been in the works for years and was supposed to come out in December 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed it.

While you wait for the film adaptation of the beloved Stephen Schwartz musical, you can check out Erivo’s work as Aretha Franklin in Nat Geo’s Genius series. She also starred in Bad Times and the El Royale and Chaos Walking. And before playing Elphaba, she will play the Blue Fairy in Disney’s live-action Pinocchio.