‘The Prom’ is fun and joyous with a meaningful message

The+students+of+James+Madison+High+School+celebrate+the+newly+accepting+prom+of+their+dreams.+

Melinda Sue Gordon

The students of James Madison High School celebrate the newly accepting prom of their dreams.

Over the past few years, there have been a handful of Broadway musicals adapted for the screen, many of them mediocre.

Every so often comes gems like “Mamma Mia” (2008), “Hairspray” (2007), and “Chicago” (2003) that remind audiences of why movie musicals are so beloved. Some of the best movie adaptations of Broadway musicals can capture the magic of live dancing and singing but have the advantage of various realistic settings. The newly released Netflix original movie, “The Prom” is a perfect example of this. It is based on the 2018 Broadway musical of the same name and, although the film had some big shoes to fill, it captures a lot of what made the musical special while adding some “pizazz” of its own. 

“The Prom” is joyous, funny, and hopeful with a meaningful message of acceptance. It tells the story of Emma (Jo Ellen Pelman), a shy high school girl who’s prom has been canceled by the PTA in response to her asking her girlfriend to the dance. To make things more complicated for Emma, her girlfriend’s mom (Kerry Washington) is the head of the PTA and spearheading the charge that same-sex couples will not be allowed at the prom. Meanwhile, in New York, four self-absorbed Broadway actors: a famous diva Dee Dee (Meryl Streep), her co-star Barry (James Corden), long time chorus girl Angie (Nicole Kidman), and an unemployed actor, Trent (Anthony Rannels), receive a devastating review on their current Broadway show which leads to its cancellation. To make themselves more “relevant,” they decide they need a public relations cause and find Emma’s story on Twitter. They head off to Indiana to rebuild their reputations in the name of justice for Emma.

The New York actors transform from self-centered divas to being genuinely kind and caring deeply for Emma. They take on the PTA, boost Emma’s confidence, and work to give her the prom that all kids deserve. Emma’s story, though heartbreaking, is one of resilience and strength. The movie is heartfelt and sends a message of the importance of inclusion. 

The all-star cast does not disappoint, but the actor who steals the show is Meryl Streep as Dee Dee. Streep is equal parts convincing, hilarious, and fun to watch. The scene where she performs “It’s Not About Me” is one of the funniest moments in the movie, with Dee Dee crashing a PTA meeting to advocate for Emma but making it all about herself. 

The songs are very traditional musical theater. Aside from the occasional forgettable song, like “We Look To You,” sung by the high school principal, most of the numbers move the plot along while being very entertaining to watch. Many musical numbers are delightful, including a scene where the actors show up to a monster truck rally wearing sparkly costumes to sing about acceptance. Most scenes with musical numbers are very theatrical and over the top and hilarious, with Broadway-worthy choreography and lots of jazz hands. There are some beautiful ballads also, like a sweet love song between Emma and Alyssa about how they just want to dance together. 

“The Prom” opens strong and continues at a fast pace through the first half. The second half moves a bit slower and drags a bit but is still entertaining.  

Dee Dee (Meryl Streep) and Barry (James Corden) sing about “changing lives” at the opening night party of their new Broadway musical, “Elenor.” (Melinda Sue Gordon)

The staging, general design, and the placing of people and set pieces in relation to the camera can make or break a Broadway adapted-for-the-screen musical. “Les Miserables” (2012) and “Cats” (2019) take place in Europe’s dirty streets, and the lighting, color palette, and sets make both movies hard to get through and not enjoyable to watch from a couch. However, in “The Prom,” the color palette and overall settings make the show even more enjoyable. The characters visit various locations, including a high school in Indiana, a shopping mall, a motel, New York City, and Emma and Alyssa’s homes, to name a few. The few scenes in New York are full of crazy colored lights and glitter that looks over the top and theatrical in contrast to the more organized, minimalist, and simple Indiana high school, mall, and motel. 

The transfer from stage to screen feels natural, and it’s as enjoyable for those who have seen the Broadway musical as those who have not. Often, the theater’s magic can be lost when transferred to the screen, making it feel like a shell of its former self; however, this movie has all the heart and soul of the original stage production. 

On the contrary, “The Prom” isn’t for everyone, especially those who aren’t excited by flashy lights, jazz hands, and singing to the point of ridiculousness. But, if you are entertained by great acting, dancing, singing, and a feel-good message, you will enjoy this movie.

“The Prom” reminds musical lovers of everything that makes movie musicals unique and why they continue to capture viewers’ attention for years to come.

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