Thursday, December 17, 2020

Ryan Murphy and his well-chosen cast help THE PROM go on to bigger, glossier things

There are those who say that Ryan Murphy (shown below), director of the new film version of the Broadway musical THE PROM has de-charmed the thing, removing spontaneity and genuineness from the proceedings. Others -- those who don't understand or appreciate musical comedy -- will counter that those attributes were never present in the first place. Bullshit. The Prom, in either aspect, has plenty of both -- and many more amazements, too. In fact, it defines what musical comedy is and simultaneously redefines it for our current age of inclusivity/diversity (as well as the unfortunate and ever-present desire and need to wipe these off the face of the earth). In short, it couldn't be more true to its 2020 time period.

TrustMovies didn't see the original Broadway show, but he did catch its musical number from the telecast during the Tony Awards a couple of years back. Based on what he saw of this and the other nominees' numbers, The Prom was the only show whose musical score and lyrics he wanted to hear more of. So he brought the Broadway cast album and by now has just about worn it out from mucho multiple plays. 

And, yes, TM was worried, given Mr. Murphy's off-and-on track record, that he might gussy things up past the boiling point. But, no. Sure, he's a little busier than he need be now and then, but the show's distinct charm, energy and sweetness, as well as its delightful digs at the narcissism of theater folk, remain front and center. 

Best of all, Murphy has kept the score mostly intact and up to snuff. Matthew Sklar's music --  maybe the bounciest since Baby -- combines with Chad Beguelin's witty and full-of-real-rhyme lyrics to keep our ears consistently alert and gratified. The book (by Bob Martin and Beguelin does a grand job of bringing together its two tales -- one about a troupe of near over-the-hill actors seeking some publicity that will kickstart their careers, the other of a high school girl in Indiana who wants to bring another girl to the prom as her date but is stymied by the local PTA.

While I adore the original cast of the Broadway album, we all can understand the need for casting big names in starring roles. And we surely do get them here -- from Meryl Streep (above, center right) as the belting diva ("Can I get softer lighting?") and James Corden (above, left) as her gay co-star to Nicole Kidman (center,  left) as the forever chorus girl who can't get a break and Keegan-Michael Key (above, right) as the sympathetic principal of the school that these kids attend -- the whole cast is first class.

I don't want to give away much more because the situations and songs are all so much fun that you deserve to experience them freshly and first-hand. (That's Ariana Debose, above, left, with Kerry Washington, as daughter and mother on either side of the GLBT divide.) 

But I will just call attention to a couple of brilliant moments of heart-stopping/jaw-dropping intimacy and surprise in the middle of all this joyous bounce: One arrives as Mr. Key sings a quiet song to Ms Streep about what theater -- and her own part in this -- has meant to him over the years. The song sweetly, humorously calls attention to both the mysteries and seeming ridiculousness of the musical form, even as it celebrrates them so beautifully.

The other moment comes as Ms Debose sings to her girlfriend Emma about the many hoops her mother puts her through so that she can become the perfect girl. All this seems both truthful and rueful (witty, too) until suddenly there's a single line -- regarding why mom is doing all this -- that stops you in your tracks. The Prom is filled with these little surprises, as much as it is chock-a-block with feel-good fun. 

From Netflix, running 130 minutes, and a much-needed gift for the holidays, The Prom is available now on the popular streaming service. (Above, right, with Ms Kidman and further above, left, with Ms Debose is Jo Ellen Pellman, making her auspicious movie debut as our heroine, Emma. )

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