Don't Bother Attending Netflix's 'The Prom'
Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and James Corden can't save Ryan Murphy's adaptation of the Broadway musical.
Meryl Streep loves to sing. I've always thought of her as that one Kristen Wiig character on Saturday Night Live who keeps protesting, "don't make me sing," but actually really wants to sing. So, yes, Meryl Streep is back singing, and even rapping, this time on Netflix in Ryan Murphy's adaptation of the Broadway musical The Prom.
The Prom opened on Broadway—back when Broadway could still exist—in 2018, and starred a host of stage veterans who are known to dedicated fans of musical theater but are not household names. When Murphy came on board to translate the show to the screen, he ditched all the actors for whom the roles were actually written in favor of Movie Stars.
The show, with a book written by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin and music and lyrics by Matthew Sklar and Beguelin, operates as part-satire, part-tearjerker. Streep plays Dee Dee Allen, a two-time Tony-award winner whose self-obsession is ruining her career. When the story opens, she's starring in an Eleanor Roosevelt musical alongside her partner-in-narcissism Barry Glickman (James Corden). The show's reviews are terrible, and closes on opening night. While commiserating at Sardi's bar, they are joined by Juilliard graduate and waiter Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells) and perpetual chorus girl Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman). Together the four of them devise a plot to revive their sinking careers: They'll find a cause and go viral with activism. The righteous fight falls into their laps after a quick Google search: An Indiana PTA has canceled its high school's prom instead of letting a teen (Jo Ellen Pellman) bring her girlfriend as a date.
Part of the pleasure of the original show was its scrappy, let's-put-on-an-extravaganza attitude—amplified by its hard-working leads Beth Leavel, Brooks Ashmanskas, Christopher Sieber, and Angie Schworer—mixed with a hefty bite. Murphy would seem to be the perfect translator, given how Glee married nastiness with earnestness. However, he ditched a lot of The Prom's more cynical elements and ended up with a movie that's in praise of celebrities curing a town of its homophobia. The whole joke of the premise hits differently when there are actually recognizable people involved.
All of the actors Murphy cast have notably sung before. Rannells got his start on Broadway. Kidman, famously, was in Moulin Rouge. Streep, of course, has been in numerous movie musicals, including Mamma Mia and Into the Woods, the latter of which also features Corden. They mostly fare well on the vocals. Streep belts bigger than she ever has before on Dee Dee's showcases "It's Not About Me" and "The Lady's Improving." (She also gets a bonus track, played over the closing credits, "Wear Your Crown," that involves rapping.) Kidman's number, "Zazz," is based around dance and Murphy cuts so much that it's difficult to tell just how she's handling the Fosse-esque steps. Corden is the entire enterprise's biggest sticking point, playing the openly gay Barry, affecting a stereotypical demeanor that rings both false and offensive.
None of this is to say that The Prom didn't have me, a sap, crying by the end. But it also proves that, no matter how hard notable celebs try bathed in neon light, sometimes a glitzy film can't match the thrill of live theater.
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