"The Prom" gets a starry cast for its film version.
Wednesday, June 26, 2019 at 1:18PM
NATHANIEL R in Andrew Rannells, Ariana Grande, Caitlin Kinnunen, James Corden, Keegan-Michael Key, LGBT, Meryl Streep, Oscars (20), Ryan Murphy, The Prom, casting, musicals

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?


Article originally appeared on The Film Experience (http://thefilmexperience.net/).
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