In 2018, The Prom premiered on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre. From the minds of Matthew Sklar, Chad Beguelin, and Bob Martin, the show tells the story of four Broadway actors. After deciding to change their public image as narcissists, they travel to a conservative Indiana town to help a student banned from bringing her girlfriend to prom.
In 2020, the show turns into a big-budget feature-length musical film on Netflix directed by Glee and American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy. With an ensemble cast featuring Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, the film presents a boisterous and ambitious take on two different worlds. Alongside Andrew Rannells and James Corden, they form a ragtag group of Broadway stars looking to change their pubic image.
However, the star of this show is newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman. In her first film role, she stands beside some of Hollywood’s biggest names and holds her own. In a musical full of funny lyrics and glittery dance breaks, Pellman brings a refreshing brand of charm. From the beginning chords of “Just Breathe”, Pellman endears herself to the audience as an extremely self-assured young woman. In the middle of a scenario relatable to teenagers all over the world, Pellman delivers a performance alongside Hamilton star Ariana DeBose that will assuredly be heralded in the LGBTQIA+ community for years. Additionally, the simplicity of heartfelt performances like “Dance with You” and big numbers like “It’s Not About Me” provides a stark contrast that gives all musical fans something to appreciate.
Moreover, Corden and Rannells bring their stage presence and experience to provide an authentic take. Corden’s quick wit and comedic timing linked with the quirkiness of Rannells create a perfect blend of goofiness and ingenuity. Rannells’ performing “The Acceptance Song” in the middle of a monster truck rally is actually one of the most memorable, laugh-out-loud scenes of the year. Moreover, after dipping his toes into the musical realm in Jingle Jangle, Keegan-Michael Key continues to flex his acting chops. He is creating characters with dramatic flair and passion. Seeing him blossom a romance with the legendary Meryl Streep is truly the stuff dreams are made of.
A musical is nothing without its catalog of joy-filled songs throughout. The Prom has no shortage of memorable, pop-blended show tunes. The songs function as intended: move the plot forward and, hopefully, pushing soundtrack streaming numbers. It should come as no surprise as the composers and lyricists worked on musicals like Elf the Musical and The Drowsy Chaperone.
The musical’s narrative finds a way to weave between heavy-hitting, emotional moments with goofy quips from the film’s cast. Moreover, following Hulu’s Happiest Season, The Prom provides another diverse and inclusive story for marginalized groups. James Corden acts as a mentor of sorts for Pellman’s Emma. He works to get her to not only accept herself but feel unafraid to show herself off to the world. Corden also gets to show off his acting chops with a touching scene about his experience coming out as gay to his parents.
However, even with the high emotions of the situation, the film has so many moments that spark joy. Ryan Murphy is famous for backing projects that create equal representation for women and minorities in front of and behind the camera. While The Prom lacks the depth of other Murphy hits like Pose, it pits ignorant resistance versus acceptance of all lifestyles. Additionally, the goofiness and fun shroud the relatable heartache.
The Prom serves its purpose of adapting a popular musical into a Netflix film event. Big, show-stopping numbers mixed with memorable performances by an A-list cast and fresh faces alike knock it out of the park. Finally, the film delivers a coming-of-age story likely to be met with criticism but also heralded as an achievement for mainstream inclusivity. – Christian Hubbard
The Prom is available on Netflix now!
The film stars Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Keegan-Michael Key, Andrew Rannells, and Jo Ellen Pellman.
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