The musical comedy, “The Prom,” directed by Ryan Murphy and adapted to the screen by Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin, is now streaming on Netflix. The film is based on the 2018 Broadway musical written by Beguelin and Martin with Matthew Sklar. It won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical as well as garnering multiple Tony nominations. The movie has an all-star cast including Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Keegan-Michael Key, Andrew Rannells, Ariana DeBose, Kerry Washington, and introduces new-comer, Jo Ellen Pellman.
The story has a basic Cinderella plot. Emma Nolan (played by Pellman) wants to go to the ball (prom), but the evil stepmother, symbolized by Mrs. Greene (Washington), who is also head of the PTA, will not let Emma go because she has come out as gay. In this modern version of the tale, Prince Charming is Mrs. Greene’s daughter, Alyssa (DeBose), who keeps her relationship with Emma secret because she is fearful of her mother and the reaction of the other students. Enter the fairy godparents in the form of four stage actors looking to get some beneficial publicity by helping Emma go to the “ball.” Streep plays Dee Dee Allen, a slightly over-the-hill, Tony-award winning actress. Cordon is Barry Glickman, not quite as successful but just as self-pretentious as Allen. He is also gay. Along for the ride are a long-time chorus girl, Angie Dickinson (Kidman), and Trent Oliver (Rannells), the Julliard graduate in between gigs. When they arrive in Edgewater, Indiana where Pellman goes to high school, the quartet encounter Principal Hawkins (Key) who is sympathetic to Emma’s cause but powerless against the PTA. A developing relationship between Allen and Hawkins is one of the subplots.
The results are somewhat predictable except there is a small twist to the story at the end. But the message — acceptance of others and being true to yourself — is not lost. It is, perhaps, the comfortable feeling we have for the storyline that allows the message to get through to those who may not quite understand the torment many in the LBGTQ community face wherever they live and whomever they love.
Grab a bag of popcorn or your favorite candy, sit back, and enjoy.
Streep couldn’t give a bad performance if she tried. Though perhaps lacking some of the singing range of the rest of the cast, she is still a dynamic performer and sparkles when she sings with the ensemble “Changing Lives,” and does justice to her solo, “The Lady is Improving.”
Cordon was a Broadway star before he became a late night host and he is a wonderful musical performer. There has been some controversy in casting Cordon, who is straight, as a gay character, but I disagree. Rannells, who is openly gay, has played several straight characters. Some think the role and Cordon’s performance are too stereotypical, but I am not sure that is not the way it was written. In any event, his performance is memorable. He shines in “Barry is Going to Prom.” It is also noteworthy to mention Cordon has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his performance.
Kidman and Pellman sizzle in “Zazz.” Rannells and the ensemble also are brilliant in “The Acceptance Song” and “Love Thy Neighbor.”
I had a little trouble with Washington’s character, Mrs. Greene. The character felt much too one-dimensional. Even a talented actress like Washington could not make her relatively quick turnaround believable.
Keys’ portrayal of the principal is more nuanced, and he holds his own in the cast musical numbers and his solo, “We Look to You.”
The true star of the show is Pellman as Emma, in her professional debut. We are on Emma’s side from the beginning as she deals with taunting and exclusion. Her song with DeBose, “Dance with You,” touches the heart. In choosing this unknown, the casting director made sure that his lead actress was also gay. This performance marks the beginning of a bright future for Pellman.
DeBose as Alyssa Greene captures the plight of a young gay woman who still cannot come out of the closet due to family and peer pressure. We feel this most when she sings, “Alyssa Greene.”
Rounding out the cast of these extremely talented actors are other notables — Tracey Ulman as Vera Glickman, Barry’s mom; Kevin Chamberlin as Sheldon Saperstein, a theatrical publicist for Allen and Glickman; and Mary Kay Place as Emma’s Grandma Bea.
The ensemble includes Logan Riley Hassel as Kaylee, Sofia Deler as Shelby, Nico Greetham as Nick, and Nathaniel J. Potvin as Kevin. All are high school classmates of Emma and Alyssa.
The music is light and frothy for the most part with one or two romantic and emotionally fraught numbers. However, the most memorable, and my favorite, was “Zazz.”
Murphy’s direction is solid. Choreographer Casey Nicholaw, from the New York stage, directed the dance number like an old-time, Broadway musical. This is most evident in the opening number, “Changing Lives,” which goes from Sardis to the streets of Broadway.
“The Prom” has a similar feel to “Legally Blond,” “Heathers: The Musical,” and “Hairspray.” If you like those type of musicals, you will enjoy “The Prom.” It is a great family movie and a nice winter break while we all huddle inside. Grab a bag of popcorn or your favorite candy, sit back, and enjoy.
Running time: Two hours and 11 minutes.
“The Prom” is presently streaming on Netflix. It has been nominated for several awards including the Golden Globe’s Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and James Cordon for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical. Streep and Kidman were nominated for Satellite Awards for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical and Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture, respectively.