The Prom

 

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A refreshing new musical arrives to cheer up the end of a miserable year.

 

Prom, The

Meryl and James

  

The genesis of The Prom lies in a Broadway show from 2018 which, until the Tony Awards, was doing quite well, having received seven nominations. Winning none of them and, despite being given a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical, it still meant that with dwindling audiences the show had to close after just over 300 performances. This was a great shame because the resulting movie version is so good, coming at a crucial time to provide a very welcome Christmas present for cinemagoers in this year of Covid.

 

The plot is reminiscent of those 1940s Babes film musicals in which Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland decide to put on their show right in their own back yard. In The Prom, however, it’s a bunch of self-obsessed professional actors who have just experienced a flop with a Broadway show called Eleanor! The Eleanor Roosevelt Story. They are nursing their wounds on account of a thumbs-down review from The New York Times. Their show closes on opening night so, at a loss to know what to do next, they decide to look for a worthy cause. They hit upon a story about a high school Prom in Indiana that is in trouble because one girl, Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman), wants to take her gay girlfriend Alyssa (Ariana DeBose) to the Prom instead of the usual male escort. Although high school principal Tom Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key) supports Emma, Mrs Greene (Kerry Washington), the head of the local PTA, has banned the girls from attending.

 

Cue the out-of-work Eleanor! cast who hightail it to Indiana in order to turn the spotlight on themselves but by doing a good deed in a naughty world. The troupe consists of Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep), a Broadway actress down on her luck, co-star Barry Glickman (James Corden), Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells), a graduate of the Juilliard School, and Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman), a chorus girl with twenty years’ experience in the show Chicago who, despite which, has never been offered the star part. Together they create a show but cannot find a suitable venue in Indiana so, in the end they resort to other tactics in order to persuade the school to put on an inclusive Prom for everyone.
 

If the story sounds sentimental, well, it isn’t really, because its message about inclusivity is presented with both finesse and care that nobody could possibly feel that they are being hit over the head with a heavy political hand. Anyway, before it gets too serious it’s counteracted by some really good and bitchy humour which follows the plot throughout. Meryl Streep and James Corden act up a brilliant storm, revealing the worst aspects of the darling world of thespians. Nicole Kidman and Andrew Rannells give as good as they get, while Kevin Chamberlin as an all-round fixer and Keegan-Michael Key as the Principal add extra weight to the rest of a brilliant cast.

 

The songs by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin are often inspired and take no hostages in their sending up of those ‘Me-Me-Me’ theatre folk and such sacred cows as Bob Fosse. Director Ryan Murphy and his choreographer Casey Nicholaw go to town on the musical numbers with a great chorus of singers and dancers who career their way through the musical numbers that are both poignant and hilarious. The Prom is such a tonic that it invites you to sit back and marvel at something that is an absolute joy from beginning to end.

 

A footnote: in the line-up of great musical comedy men that includes the likes of Ray Bolger, Zero Mostel and Nathan Lane, we can now safely add James Corden to that list. He is turning out to be one of the most talented performers on stage and on film. In many ways he lifts The Prom onto another level of performance and never puts either a note or a foot wrong.

 

MICHAEL DARVELL

 

Cast: Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Keegan-Michael Key, Andrew Rannells, Ariana DeBose, Kerry Washington, Jo Ellen Pellman, Tracey Ullman, Kevin Chamberlin, Logan Riley, Sofia Deler, Nico Greetham, Nathaniel J. Potvin,Mary Kay Place, Chet Dixon, Sam Pillow.

                                                                                                                

Dir Ryan Murphy, Pro Adam Anders, Chad Beguelin, Bill Damaschka, Alexis Martin Woodall, Ryan Murphy, Scott Robertson and Matthew Sklar, Screenplay Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin, based on their stage show, from an original concept by Jack Viertel, Ph Matthew Libatique, Pro Des Jamie Walker McCall, Ed Peggy Tachdjian and Danielle Wang, Music Matthew Sklar, Lyrics Chad Beguelin, Costumes Lou Eyrich, Sound John Snider, Dialect coach Elizabeth Himelstein.

 

Netflix/Ryan Murphy Productions-Netflix.

130 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 4 December 2020. Available in cinemas and on Netflix from 11 December 2020. Cert. 12A.