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"The Prom" gets a starry cast for its film version.

by Nathaniel R

Two girlfriends in the midwest just want to go to their prom in "The Prom"

The Prom, running through August 11th at Broadway's Longacre Theatre, has defied expectations more than once in its short life. That starts with the plot synopsis which reads like a lecturing social justice message play (Broadway stars fight against discrimination to get a young lesbian to her prom when her school balks at the idea) but is in reality a sweet often hilarious comedy which has more targets than just homophobes in its sights. The musical began previews last October on Broadway and while it wasn't expected to be a big hit (given the sad state of Broadway where branding is all important - it came with no bankable stars, no jukebox score, wasn't based on a movie) it managed to stay open for months, snag high profile Tony nominations, and secure both touring and movie adaptation deals. (It is also a total delight, as Dan told us in his review which we co-sign.)

As you've undoubtedly heard, Netflix snapped it up some time ago. Originally we thought it was going to be a straight to streaming situation, given what Netflix is planning for the new Boys in the Band (with the all-gay Broadway cast reprising their roles for the camera), but it turns out they have an Oscar run in mind. And with that a starrier cast and some degree of a theatrical release in 2020 (so we'll have at least two musicals in the mix that year given Spielberg's West Side Story remake).

But are The Prom's days of defying expectations over?

This fear stems mostly from the casting (which we'll get to in a second) and the director. Though Ryan Murphy makes great (if wildly uneven) television series he has yet to make a great movie (Running with Scissors and Eat Pray Love are his only theatrical features thus far). For those of you who haven't heard much about the musical, here's a rundown of its characters from left to right in this image from Broadway [and who was cast in the film version].

Ignorant Mother
Mrs Greene is the villain (of sorts) being a homophobe and a religious PTA mom. The Prom is not as harsh on her as the plot reads, since it reserves some of its barbs for the narcissism of its "heroes". [NOT LISTED IN THE CASTING ANNOUNCEMENT, PERHAPS NOT CAST YET?]

The School Principal
Mr Hawkins is sympathetic to gay teenagers but has the School Board to think of. He's also a Broadway fan. [KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY... this strikes us as great if surprising casting because he also serves as a love interest to the diva and Keegan-Michael Key is 22 years younger than Meryl Streep. The principal gets one solo in the musical. Can Key sing?]

The Girlfriend
Alyssa Greene is a typical High Schooler but with a secret. She's in love with Emma, the school's out lesbian, but she is still unsure about this 'coming out of the closet' business herself. [ARIANA GRANDE... Alyssa only gets one solo but duets with the lead a couple of times]

Flaming Broadway Star
Barry Glickman is a very gay Broadway lead (think a Nathan Lane type, only less successful) whose star is on the wane. He's really into the notion of a gay prom. [JAMES CORDEN... this is the casting we're most annoyed with. We actually like Corden but does he need to be cast in every musical project? Unlike Meryl Streep he does not have a one-of-a-kind musical voice but Hollywood can't seem to think beyond him when it comes to musicals. This is quite unimaginative casting and it would have been great to have an actual gay actor in the role... Tituss Burgess, for example, would've been amazing!]

The Chorus Girl
Angie Schworer is friends with the two big Broadway stars but she's never truly ascended stuck in Chicago forever without ever getting to play her dream role of Roxie Hart. [NICOLE KIDMAN... this casting is kind of meta-amusing since Renee Zellweger, the movie Roxie Hart once beat her at the SAG awards before Kidman beat Renee at the Oscars so there's already a Chicago backstory -haha. For our tastes this role is too small and unexciting for a star of Kidman's size. And Moulin Rouge! aside, Nicole Kidman might not have been the best choice for a role that is all about someone being an incredible dancer known for high kicks. Angie gets no solos in the piece but does have a duet with Emma the teenage lesbian. Given the size of the role this would have been an incredible opportunity for some lesser known actor with musical gifts.]

The Diva
Dee Dee Allen is an aging Broadway legend (think a Patti Lupone type, only more rapidly losing her stardom), particularly beloved by the gays, and a total narcissist. She takes up the young lesbian's cause solely for publicity reasons. [MERYL STREEP... While this is unimaginative casting -- Meryl is mandatory for musicals according to Hollywood -- it's also solid casting since Streep can mine narcissism very well for both drama and comedy (think Manhattan or Death Becomes Her and Prada) and of course her singing voice is to die for. Dee Dee has two solos and one of them is, for my tastes, the most thrilling number in the show "The Lady's Improving" or at least it was on Broadway since Beth Leavel is a hilarious marvel onstage. Before we knew they were going with giant stars, we thought this would be a great part for Kristin Chenoweth who has worked with Ryan Murphy before. Also Meryl Streep's solo in Mary Poppins Returns was lame so we hope she can recover and be really funny/exciting in "The Lady's Improving"]

Trent Oliver, like Angie, is also in the biz without the stardom. He's here to help his starrier friends. [ANDREW RANNELS]

The Publicist
Sheldon Saperstein is dealing with the whirlwind of controversy the Broadway stars have stirred up. [AWKWAFINA... the sole bit of imaginative casting announced! Saperstein, who will surely be renamed, has no numbers in the show.]

The Lesbian
Emma is out of the closet and also an aspiring songwriter. She's got a relatively subdued personality so she doesn't really want all this national media attention she's getting for being discriminated against -- she just wants to take her girlfriend to the prom. [THIS ROLE IS NOT CAST YET BUT IT'S THE CENTRAL PART IF NOT THE SOLE LEAD. She has one solo -- "Unruly Heart" which is arguably the best song in the show -- but several duets.

We were very annoyed to hear that 'a nationwide search is under way for the leading role'. If you're going to just cast an unknown, indicating bankability is not remotely a concern, that seems very harsh to the Tony-nominated leading lady Caitlin Kinnunen who is beyond talented. Just listen to her sing and she's cute as a button, too!

She's also queer in real life so why not just let her transfer with the show? Ryan Murphy made a point to have the cast of Boys in the Band on Broadway be populated with only real gay actors. Why couldn't the same courtesy have extended to this musical in the four gay roles, only one of of which has gone to a gay actor (Andrew Rannels)?

Are you excited or worried about The Prom? Or somewhere in between? Have you listened to the cast album yet?


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Reader Comments (28)

I hope they cast Caitlin Kinnunen so there is at least one member for the original cast. I love Meryl Streep, but there are other actors who can sing. Give others a chance! I love the idea of Titus Burgess for Barry, or they could have gone with Nathan Lane if they wanted someone more well-known. There are so many talented musical theater performers but Hollywood keeps passing them over.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

I hate this casting -- I mean really hate it -- because it's mostly obvious and uninspired and reeks of star-fucking, but this is how Hollywood makes musicals nowadays, so here we are.

I just read this morning, however, that Grande had to pull out due to her touring schedule.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

I already ranted in another post because I couldn't wait. I belong to the minority who doesn't need Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman in everything. Now I'll just go to my corner and DIE

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I hate this casting, except for Awkwafina...I actually think that's imaginative.

If they insist on better known names for the stars, what about Megan Mullally for DeeDee? Mario Cantone for Barry? Bebe Neuwirth for Angie?

Corden and Kidman are the biggest headscratchers for me here.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

I am BEYOND upset at this casting, partially because it is so unimaginative, but mostly because a large part of the reason why The Prom works as well as it does is because the cast does such an amazing job of walking the VERY fine line between caricature-ishness and genuine feeling. This is ESPECIALLY true of Brooks Ashmanskas as Barry, and I have absolutely zero faith in James Corden to do that part justice. It's amazing to me that Murphy didn't cast an actual gay man in the role - was Nathan Lane unavailable? Nathaniel, your suggestion of Tituss Burgess is SO PERFECT that now I'm even more upset about Corden's casting.

Kidman as Angie is just confusing - she does not read "chorus girl who has been continually passed over for Roxie Hart for over a decade" AT ALL, although she does have the requisite "crazy antelope legs". But really... why cast her when Jane Krakowski is RIGHT THERE?!?

And Meryl. OH, MERYL. I continue to not understand why every female role of a certain age must go to her first, and she definitely has the chops to play the part well.... but she also has the tendency to go big in ways that could work to the detriment of the character/the piece as a whole, and I don't trust Ryan Freakin' Murphy of all people to be able to rein her in. You couldn't have gotten Patti to do this? Or Donna Murphy? Or Christine Baranski? With so many viable options, to go with Meryl is just... SIGH. It's FINE, I guess.

Key and Rannels are fine (although... you couldn't have thrown Raul Esparza a bone as Trent?). Ariana Grande I thought was perfect casting as Alyssa (who gets the best song in the show), but apparently she's not actually doing it now? Awkwafina as the publicist is a VERY interesting/exciting choice, although the part will have to be seriously rewritten for her.

SO, yeah, I'm disappointed with the casting and more than a little bit worried for this. The show as written kinda requires the artifice inherent in a stage production in order to work, so a film version was always kind of a dicey proposition. But with this director and this cast.... I'm bracing myself for a bit of a mess.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

Hmm. When did we officially enter the complaint culture? This has just been cast with great people, and a well-like musical got a greenlight for a movie, and yet everyone still feels the need to complain about it. I NEED a musical movie with Meryl Streep and Andrew Rannels in it, so I refuse to complain. Break a leg.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJono

Excited to see Nicole, but Jane Krakowski as Angie the chorus girl would have been one of the most perfect casting decisions in film history.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJim

Madeline Ashton, the sequel. I’m there!

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBC

Excited for this in general. A big star power movie musical with such a quick turnaround from Broadway - it just feels like a win even with casting quibbles. And they could be retooling/adapting any number of details, so I'd say that there's plenty we don't know about how people fit into certain roles. (Bad example, but think how much something like "Bye Bye Birdie" was changed for the screen.)

The only part of this that worries me is the possible Kinnunen snub. If they're truly willing to go with an unknown over her, that feels rude. But who knows, maybe she's in contention and they just didn't have the full cast locked down before the press release.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

Blah...Blah... Blah Sorry my
retort is unimaginative!!!!!!

I think this is a great casting. Streep has not been in a movie since The Post... well over a year ago. Aging actresses get many parts ( just do your homework ) ... the problem is that type of movie does NOT make money. Only Marvel,etc. movies are sure things;. So please get off the kick that Streep takes every role. I

We need BIG movies with BIG stars.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

Meryl makes sense. They need bankable star that can bring Oscar buzz - she's it and she'll do a solid job at least, or will be amazing. Meryl does comedy very well.

The Kidman casting seems really off. While I'm sure she'll be great in the role, it would be way more fun to see someone who isn't a megastar in this role...although I guess there is some fun in seeing a megastar in the role in a cheeky way.

Jame Corden's casting is the worst. Tituss Burgess would have been perfect, or a host of other actors (or even Nathan Lane). Corden is great at hosting and hanging with celebs, but his energy doesn't jump off the screen when he's not playing himself.

I just hope this isn't another Nine situation. Great cast, great book, but a total dud of a film.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoe


June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLEX

Maybe I’m just consumed by Big Little Lies, but I’d much prefer Witherspoon in Kidman’s role.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKeegan

Eh so many other things to bitch about. I’m happy there’s another musical to look forward to. And the inevitable Golden Globe or BAFTA showdown between two of my favs: Streep and Lancashire in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPam

A new film from Ryan Murphy.... no thanks. He sucks and he's overrated. Running with Scissors remains... ONE OF THE WORST FILMS I HAD EVER SEEN!!!!

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

Hard pass. Sorry, Nicole.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterH

I bet this movie will be a HUGE hit. That's all that Hollywood cares about.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

Yes, the casting is unimaginative, but I'm still gonna watch it. Ryan Murphy is very (VERY) hit-and-miss, so my ecxpectations are low.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

Don’t forget In the Heights comes out in 2020 too!

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCoco

Bill of Complaints is right, starting at the top with Nathaniel. I have two thoughts: hurray for diversity casting and also for Kevin Huvane, who I wish was my agent. Sounds fabulous.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterFaye

Honestly, I'm good with most of the casting. But James Corden's casting just makes me angry. The character itself was iffy enough on stage played so flamboyantly by Brooks but it also worked because of Brooks. Corden doing the same thing will be an absolute nightmare.

Plus while they didn't need to be the same age, I always thought the Dee Dee and Barry were more of the same generation and thus Streep and Corden feels OFF to me together.

Anyways, Nathan Lane, Titus Burgess. Or why not just hire Brooks? Did EVERY name needed to be a big name? If they're casting an unknown for the lead why not bring some of the original Broadway people? So upsetting.

June 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

Keegan-Michael Key can sing at least passably - see the "Les Mis" Key & Peele sketch, or interview where he sings 'You Send Me' for about 10 seconds - not a live theatre type of voice, but should be fine for a film version.

Andrew Rannells should be in more movie musicals - I really don't understand why they hire more famous folks who can't sing when Rannells, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Groff, Jeremy Jordan, etc. are all standing right there and all of them except for Jordan have a fair amount of success in tv and movies.

I like Awkwafina and think that is fun casting.

I'm more happy for Streep being in this in terms of her career than I am for the movie to have her in it, if that makes sense.

June 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Thank you, Pam.

We need to be talking about the film adaptation of Everybody's Talking About Jamie. The musical is sheer joy. Richard E Grant and Sarah Lancashire in amazing roles for the both of them. Fingers crossed it Billy Elliots it's way to some Academy love.

June 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKeegan

I'm surprised they're trying to position this (at best) B-level material for an awards run. It's fine and funny, but hardly Oscar bait.

June 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAustin

Um, Austin, it was nominated for 7 Tony Awards.

Also GREEN BOOK won Best Picture most recently and that was C-level material at best.

June 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

And Beetlejuice was nominated for 8 Tony Awards this year. The dynamics for the Tonys are different.

June 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAustin

I had no idea Meryl and Nicole are in EVERYTHING that came out the last years -that would be hunderdes of movies every year!!!
Kudos to them!!!
Your faves could never! :P

This shit will never end, won't it? No matter what movies they're getting cast (and this actually sounds more like fun than Awards-just like MM! imo), people will complain.
So in the end... whatever.

You go, Girls!

June 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

I would like this better if it was about two boys falling in love

June 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

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