As a lifelong fan of musical theater, I have always been an avid consumer of movie musicals. They are one of the few chances I had at accessing Broadway classics from southwest Missouri. That being said, when I first heard about the planned Netflix adaptation of “The Prom,” I was ecstatic and among the first to watch it when it was released during December of 2020.
Set in a small town in Indiana, “The Prom” follows a group of four failing Broadway performers: Dee Dee Allen, Barry Glickman, Trent Oliver and Angie Dickinson. The four are searching for a cause to support in hopes of gaining positive press. In their search, they find the story of a girl named Emma who attempts to bring her girlfriend to the school’s prom. Rather than allowing Emma and her girlfriend to attend, the Parent Teacher Association decides to cancel the prom, which leads to a fight between the community and the state government. Desperate to prove they aren’t selfish narcissists, the actors travel to Indiana to intervene in the matter and help Emma attend the prom.
“The Prom” features a star-studded cast lead by the unofficial queen of movie musicals, Meryl Streep, who is accompanied by former “Into The Woods” castmates James Corden and Tracey Ullman. Hollywood all-stars Nicole Kidman, Keegan Michael Key and Kerry Washington also appear in the film alongside Broadway veteran Andrew Rannells, who boasts playbill credits for “The Book of Mormon” and “Falsettos,” among others. Other stars include “Hamilton” alum Ariana DeBose and freshman talent Jo Ellen Pellman. After the success of “The Prom” after it opened on Broadway in 2018, these actors had big shoes to fill. In my opinion, they were more than capable of that test.
To begin, I should be honest that not every performance was flawless. I found Corden’s portrayal of an aging, gay Broadway star to be based on a lot of common stereotypes, and it made the character seem like a caricature of a human rather than a real person at points. However, I thought his emotional delivery was shockingly genuine and his chemistry with Streep on screen was undeniable.
There were aspects of Kidman’s portrayal of energetic “Chicago” ensemble member Angie that struck me as odd choices for the character, but I will gladly admit I was enthralled with her performance of Angie’s solo “Zazz.” The first time I watched “The Prom,” I hardly noticed these flaws, largely because I was overwhelmingly fond of Streep and Rannells’ performances.
As one of the leading forces of the movie, Streep’s Dee Dee Allen is given some incredibly powerful solos to perform, and going into the movie, I was nervous to see how Streep would shape up against Broadway actresses who held the role previously. My worry quickly dissipated as Streep proved to viewers she was perfect for this role. Alongside her, Rannells filled the role of Juilliard alumni Trent. Although Trent only has two solos, one of which is cut short in the film, Rannells performs beautifully in both, displaying to viewers exactly how he earned his two past Tony nominations as well as his Grammy win. From the ease with which he matches the dancing skills of the ensemble that backs him in “Love Thy Neighbor” to the powerful vocals he delivers, Rannells in my opinion was the perfect casting choice for this role.
Performances aside, “The Prom” was also a beautifully directed movie. From lighting choices to choreography, every moment of the movie felt intentional and impactful. The story of “The Prom” is one of overcoming the hatred of others, and I felt as though every creative choice enhanced that focus. Even though I have already watched “The Prom” seven times in the short time since it was released, I have no doubt I will be returning to watch it again soon.
Follow Lillian Durr on Twitter, @weird_wondurr
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