The Prom review: Meryl Streep steals the show in this flamboyant stage to screen adaptation
When I first heard they were making a film adaptation of The Prom I was beyond excited. To have a modern musical turned into a major motion picture is a big thing - especially one with such an important message. I'd known of the show and listened to its cast recording ('The Lady's Improving' became an obsession) but didn't know what to expect from the film. These stage to screen adaptations can go one of two ways - great or bloody awful - and in all honesty, I think The Prom leans more on the side of greatness than anything else (though some performances are less desirable than others).
The (spoiler free) story goes like this: Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) and Barry Glickman (James Corden) are starring in the new Eleanor Roosevelt musical but it flops. Depressed and deflated they team up with chorus girl Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman) and out of work actor turned bar tender Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells) to try and boost their publicity and public appearance. They do this by travelling to Indiana to help Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman), a young lesbian in high school who just wants to go to the prom with her girlfriend Alyssa (Ariana DeBose). The head of the PTA (played by Kerry Washington) cancels the prom for all as the rule is 'you must attend the prom with someone of the opposite sex'. The Broadway foursome, along with the school's headteacher (Keegan-Michael Key) help fight for Emma's rights.
Meryl Streep really does take centre stage as the two time Tony winner Dee Dee Allen. It is undoubtedly her best vocal performance to date with her first big number 'It's Not About Me' blowing me away (also take note that her songs were not lowered from Beth Leavel's original Broadway key). Her fantastic comic timing and delivery as well as her glamorous demeanour create a joyous character on screen. Could another successful awards season be heading Streep's way? Quite possibly.
The pairing of Jo Ellen Pellman and Ariana DeBose was brilliant casting. Though 25 and 29 respectively, they both convincingly play the high school lovers. Newcomer Pellman packs a punch with her performance, though there were times when she felt a little too smiley for someone who was going through such a tough period. Tony nominee for Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, this is DeBose's second big screen musical this year after appearing in the filmed production of Hamilton. Her vocals soar and her performance is emotional and very believable. She is playing the iconic role of Anita in the upcoming remake of West Side Story (this was meant to be her third musical film of 2020, but it was pushed back to next December) so watch out for her in the future.
Other notable mentions go to Andrew Rannells, star of The Book of Mormon, who fills the screen with joy with his musical number 'Love Thy Neighbour' - a true highlight of the film. Kerry Washington and Keegan-Michael Key show off their beautiful vocals throughout the film with Key's song 'We Look To You' highlighting why we need theatre so much, an extremely poignant song for us all at the moment.
You may have noticed I have not mentioned two of the film's main stars, and there is reason for this. I have never been James Corden's biggest fan, but I approached this film with an open mind; unfortunately, I just didn't like him in this. He was fine, but I think in a film with such a stellar cast you need to be more than just 'fine'. He sang well and his line delivery wasn't horrendous but his whole characterisation just felt wrong in my eyes. His constant camping up of everything felt more offensive than anything else and it made his emotional scenes about his difficulties with his sexuality in the past feel less emotive than they could've been. In a film that is meant to celebrate inclusivity and being yourself, it felt out of place to cast a straight actor in such a prominently gay role.
One other questionable casting was Nicole Kidman as Fosse girl Angie Dickinson. Though a fabulous actress, it was unbelievable that she would ever be a cast member of Chicago. Her weak vocals and wooden dancing just didn't fit the brief of the character, especially in 'Zazz', her big number where she teaches Emma to put a little more 'zazz' into her life. The awkward thing was, Emma was a better dancer than the supposed Broadway veteran.
The film was produced and directed fantastically by Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story). It was vibrant and covered with sparkles, which captured the essence of Broadway and the theatrical magic that comes with it, brought to life by the brilliant score and screenplay by Matthew Sklar, Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin. Every single song from the original Broadway production makes it into the film, a very rare thing to see in a movie musical, where numbers often get cut for timing reasons (see the many, many cuts from the Into The Woods film). Each song and scene is filled with showbiz references that will delight every theatre lover across the globe.
The Prom is important for two reasons. One, it tells an extremely important story about love and being yourself which I think should be shared with everyone all over the world. Two, it kickstarts a brand new era of movie musicals. Telling new stories to a wider audience is as important as ever and The Prom is just the beginning. Everybody's Talking About Jamie arrives next February followed by In The Heights in the summer. Dear Evan Hansen and 13 are also due to be released over the next few years. The 2020s are going to be an interesting time for movie musicals, where we are going to see stories that need to be told, being told.
Was The Prom my favourite film ever? No. Was it a brilliant stage to screen adaptation? Yes! Despite some questionable casting choices (I'm looking at you James and Nicole), it really worked. And I'd happily sit through it all over again even if it is just to hear Meryl belt those top notes.