“The Prom” Movie Musical 2020: Thoughts and Predictions

By now it is no secret that I am a theatre kid through and through. Just under two years ago I was on the hunt for a new soundtrack to obsess over. Thanks to a post on my Instagram “recommended” page, I discovered “The Prom.”

“The Prom” began it’s first run in Atlanta, Georgia in 2016. With a cast of Broadway veterans such as Angie Schworer and Beth Leavel, it became an instant hit. Despite sharing it’s plot and overall spirit with the New York production, the Atlanta run was quite different. The most notable change in the move from GA to NY was the recasting of “Alyssa,” the love interest and prospective prom date of the show’s lead; Emma Nolan. Anna Grace Barlow played the integral cheerleader in Atlanta and was replaced by ensemble dancer Isabelle McCalla upon the move. Prior to “The Prom” McCalla’s most notable role was Princess Jasmine in Broadway’s “Aladdin.” Another notable change was the story presented in the Act 1 number; “You Happened.” The first version of the song being shared between Emma and Alyssa, and the current version being a presentation of the various “promposals” of the show’s ensemble cast. To watch “You Happened” on The View click HERE.

“The Prom” had it’s final performance in the Longacre Theatre in August of 2019 to the dismay of many fans. Speculation of a potential movie adaptation began to circulate around the same time with the release of numerous inaccurate cast lists and fake news. Behind the scenes, Netflix was initiating the early stages of production on the most anticipated movie musical the platform has ever seen.

If we are going to talk Netflix’s “The Prom” we have to obviously start with this cast. When I saw the star-studded list of both Broadway and Hollywood actors I couldn’t believe my eyes. The principal cast includes A-listers such as Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, James Corden and Kerry Washington (to name a few). The combination of those 4 actors alone come up to a combined total of 4 Academy Awards, 1 Tony, 13 Golden Globes and 12 Emmys.

When adapting a beloved broadway show for the screen there will always be controversy, and Meryl Streep’s “Dee Dee Allen” is no exception. Streep has received mixed responses toward her vocal performances in movie musicals such as 2008’s “Mamma Mia” and 2014 Disney hit “Into the Woods.” There is no doubt that the 71-year-old is a beyond brilliant actor, but will her vocal chops bring justice to this iconic character? Personally, I think Dee Dee’s songs are well within her range and fit her mature but non-overpowering voice perfectly.

When I saw Nicole Kidman’s name on the cast list I knew instantly which character the Moulin Rouge actress would be portraying, the one and only Angie. Kidman no doubt lives in the centre of the recently released teaser trailer, and upon seeing her “Angie” I couldn’t believe my eyes. While obviously bringing her own flair, she was the spitting image of Angie Schworer’s Broadway character of the same name. From “Big Little Lies” to “Paddington,” Kidman is a notoriously versatile actress and I can’t wait to see the “Zazz” she brings to the table as Netflix’s Angie.

A “Prom” star that may be unknown to many outside the theatre world is Ariana Debose (Alyssa Greene). If you have seen Hamilton on Disney+ then you have actually seen Debose in arguably her most influential role to date. Remember that final scene where Burr shoots Hamilton? Well, if you could see through your tears then you may recognize her as “The Bullet,” a very special member of the Hamilton ensemble that acts as the embodiment of death. Eagle-eyed viewers would notice that she began her fatal streak in Act 1 after being killed by King George’s guard. She then plays a part in every onstage death thereafter. After leaving Hamilton, Debose began climbing the ranks in the movie musical world. In addition to Hamilton and The Prom, she is also starring in the film adaptation of “West Side Story” which is set to be released in 2021. Even just watching the trailer I can already see that she is building a whole new Alyssa and making the character her own.

A cast member I personally can barely contain my excitement to see the performance of is “The Late Late Show” host, critically acclaimed comedian and musical theatre star James Corden. I honestly have zero complaints about this casting. Corden’s most notable movie musical role (which also placed him alongside Meryl Streep) would have to be “The Baker” in 2014’s “Into The Woods.” He was also in 2019’s “Cats” however I cannot comment on his performance in the film since I have no desire to subject myself to that kind of torture…

A name on the cast list that came as a pleasant surprise to many was Andrew Rannels. If you are a broadway fan then you would know Rannels as Elder Price in The Book of Mormon, King George in Hamilton, Whizzer in Falsettos, and Larry in “The Boys in the Band” (a broadway PLAY that was adapted for Netflix by “The Prom” director Ryan Murphy and it’s 2018 broadway revival cast) among other things. I am a big “Book of Mormon” fan and I look forward to the killer vocals I know Rannels will bring with his portrayal of Trent Oliver.

Kerry Washington is taking on the role of Mrs. Greene; a PTA president of a small town high school who openly opposes high school senior Emma’s wishes to bring a female date to prom. Little does she know that the girl Emma is fighting to bring as her date is her own daughter, Alyssa. On broadway the role was portrayed by Courtney Collins. While Collins was fabulous in her own right, I know I am not alone in appreciating the film’s choice to cast Mrs. Greene as a woman of colour. Kerry Washington has quite a few theatre credits prior to this film including “Billy Elliot” in 2005, “Race” in 2009, and “American Son” in 2018. Washington has made a name for herself in Hollywood with shows such as “Scandal.” More recently, she starred alongside Reese Witherspoon in Amazon Prime/Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere,” a show with a strong emphasis on POC and LGBTQ representation. Sharing the struggles of artist Mia Warren as she navigates living as a low-income single mother with a big secret, the depth I have seen Washington bring to her characters (specifically those within LGBTQ storylines) gives me no doubt that she will shine as Mrs. Greene.

The most anticipated cast member by far is complete and total newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman. If you are a fan of 2007’s “Hairspray” as I am, then you may recognize that “The Prom” is taking a very similar route with it’s casting and with that, marketing. In 2007 Hairspray made a very deliberate and strategic move by stacking up a cast of the biggest names at the time (Zac Efron, Michelle Pfeiffer, Amanda Bynes, James Marsden, etc.). Despite having this star studded ensemble cast they decided that the film’s lead (also a female teen) would be a complete unknown, thus casting then-ice cream scooper with pipes of gold; Nikki Blonsky. “The Prom” did the exact same thing with Emma. This is the one character that I honestly don’t know quite what to expect from. Caitlin Kinnunen (Broadway’s Emma) always held a special place in my heart because not only was she LGBTQ both in and out of character, but she and I shared very similar body types. I felt seen with Kinnunen lighting up the Longacre stage every night. With the casting of Jo Ellen Pellman it is clear that they went for a more traditional “leading lady” mold in a few different ways. Despite it all, I am insanely excited to see Pellman’s take on the character and have a brand new Emma grace our screens.

Being the centre of the plot, Emma has (in my personal opinion) the most plot-moving and comedic musical moments in the story. These include “Just Breathe;” an internal pep-talk reminding herself of why it is important that she fight for an inclusive prom despite her anxieties, “Dance With You;” a sweet moment between Emma and Alyssa expressing their simple desire to be able to share a dance at their prom, “Zazz;”An anthem of self-confidence gifted to her by Angie, and the unforgettable “Unruly Heart;” To steal quotes from my own former post, “A message from 17-year-old Emma to the world. (…) When (she) is at her whit’s end, she reaches out to the world via a YouTube video where she sings her feelings accompanied by a single acoustic guitar. As more and more people relate to her story a chorus erupts of teens from across the globe who just want to follow their ‘Unruly Hearts.'”

The film is produced by Ryan Murphy. We have this visionary director to thank for television shows including (but not limited to) American Horror Story, The Politician, Hollywood, Scream Queens, Glee, American Crime Story, Ratched, and Pose. Some of his movies include (and again, not limited to) A Secret Love, The Boys in the Band and Eat Pray Love. I am a huge fan of his work and I believe they could not have found anyone better to make this movie.

In conclusion, I’m just a theatre nerd who’s insanely excited for one of her favourite musicals to be put on screen and for some reason felt the need to write 1700 words on it at 11PM the same day I published my New Mutants post. You can expect a full movie review after the film’s release on December 11th, 2020.

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