Last Updated on 14 December 2020 by Showcall Editorial Team
As Britain faces the bleakest of midwinters in lockdown, Netflix has gifted us the joyful, exuberant tonic of The Prom. Building on his success with TV shows such as Glee, Pose and Hollywood, director Ryan Murphy has put together over two hours of comedy and compassion with upbeat songs and a string of pitch-perfect performances.
Based on a mildly successful Broadway musical, the film sees four narcissistic Broadway performers travel to a small town in Indiana in a cynical effort to inject new life into their careers through some high-profile “activism”. The target of their zeal is a gay 17-year-old girl, Emma, whose school has cancelled its prom because she wants to bring a girlfriend as her date. At the start, they don’t really care about her or her situation but slowly they each find themselves transformed by spending time with her, away from the glitz of the big city. The story may be set in springtime but its message of love and understanding makes it a perfect film for Christmas.
Meryl Streep leads a starry cast as Dee Dee Allen, a self-absorbed parody of Broadway divas like Patti LuPone, whose soft heart is exposed and reignited by the adoring high school principal played by Keegan-Michael Key. Nicole Kidman is poignant as ageing chorus girl Angie Dickinson who is yet to hit the big time, while Andrew Rannells is likeably charismatic as actor Trent Oliver whose career is stalled despite going to the Juilliard drama school. The casting of James Corden, a straight actor, as ebullient gay Broadway star Barry Glickman has drawn a lot of flak but he is hilarious, delivering some of the show’s funniest lines with superb comic skill. He plays Barry as an even more flamboyant version of his narcissistic theatre director character in the Crosswalk musical segments of his late-night TV show. Kerry Washington may not get any songs but she strikes the right note as Mrs Greene, the head of the PTA, whose homophobia comes under increasing pressure. The break-out star is Jo Ellen Pellman who plays Emma with warmth and charm, mixing sweetness with steely determination.
Even though production was delayed by Covid-19, the show has made it from Broadway to the screen in only a year and, despite being opened up with spectacular filmic design under cinematographer Matthew Libatique, it structurally stays true to the original – an added pleasure at a time when most musicals on both sides of the Atlantic remain shuttered. Written by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin with music by Matthew Sklar, it is packed with humour (including plenty of theatre in-jokes), pausing only for more heartfelt moments as the story unfolds. Some of the songs draw inspiration from other musicals, from Chicago to Godspell, and several, such as “It’s Not About Me” or “Changing Lives”, are designed for laughs but many have an emotional punch, from the touching “Dance With You” and “Simply Love” to the stirring “It’s Time To Dance” and “Tonight Belongs To You” to Streep’s showstopper, “The Lady’s Improving”. It is stagey so maybe not one for anybody uncomfortable with musical theatre but The Prom is a fabulously feelgood film that is bound to become a cult favourite.