I’ve always loved musicals. It was such a treat growing up watching Mirivis shows and I loved going to local productions that my friends were in. I loved watching movie musicals and I’ve made a lot of friends through a shared love of musicals. When I lived in England I was going to a West End show pretty much every other week and so I saw a lot of musicals. This year, musicals got me through the first chuck of quarantine. But while I have seen some phenomenal musicals, I have also seen some truly terrible ones.
Over the years I’ve determined my own way to judge these productions. There are five things I think are important when deciding if a musical is good or not:
- Is the music any good? I want the songs to be catchy and to have at least one song I want to listen to on repeat when I get home because it’s stuck in my head.
- Was the story good? Was it interesting/fun/engaging etc. This feels obvious but I’ve seen some truly terrible stories…
- Was the performance noteworthy? I want to leave impressed by the actors. I want to look up their credits and get excited about their next projects.
- Is the production design good? For stage productions, I want something interesting to look at – but was also clever. I want great costumes, makeup, and an overall smart ‘look’.
- What’s the overall vibe at the end? IMO – a good musical leaves a positive impression and creates a magical memory. A show that makes you want to keep the ticket stub and playbill. I do not want to leave thinking I just wasted two hours of my life.
Most musicals I’ve seen hit three to four these boxes – the bad ones have two or less. Great musicals have all five.
For example, one of the best musicals I’ve seen was Come From Away. Great music, compelling story, amazing performances, really unique production design, and I cried, laughed and felt like I had just witnessed something great. Incredible 5/5.
So knowing that I love musicals, I was obviously very excited to watch The Prom last weekend.
But here’s the thing… The Prom… isn’t terrible like many critics are saying. It’s just not GREAT. It’s a B Musical. A 3/5 (maybe) – an average musical. Doesn’t fail. Doesn’t get top of the class. It’s just fun.
Let’s break it down using my rubric for sucess:
1. Is the music any good?
Sure, I was into at the time. I was bopping along and felt engaged. However, do I remember a single song a week later. Nope. So this is a problem but this isn’t the movie version’s problem. This is just a problem with the musical in general. I’m re-listening to the musical on Spotify as I’m writing this and while it’s fun, it’s just very generic. It feels like it could be in any musical. There isn’t a show stopping memorable number (think Defining Gravity) that had me humming the music all week. It’s just fine. I’d score the music 2.5/5.
The best song: It’s Time To Dance (which isn’t saying much…)
2. Was the story good?
Yes! It’s a true story and it’s a great story. But here’s the thing , I think it feels dated. They are presenting it as a “current” America story but the true story happened decade ago and America has fundamentally changed since then. In 2010, gay marriage wasn’t legal in the states. The general attitude towards LGBTQ+ people has drastically changed. So I think it feels dated because it is. The show opened 4 years ago in 2016 and it was a BIG deal at the time and I think it got a lot of buzz because of it. At the Macy’s Day Parade it was the first LGBTQ+ kiss on the broadcast – but like… that’s not as ‘remarkable’ in 2020. Anyways – it was a fun story. I was rooting for Emma throughout the musical, I felt an emotional connection to her. I understand why this story was made into a musical – and again, I’ve seen worse stories in other musicals.
3. Was the performance noteworthy?
So. The problem here is with the emphasis on the MAJOR celebrities. The movie version is very proud of it’s stars Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Kerry Washington, Andrew Rannells, and Keegan-Michael Key. It should have put the emphasis on Jo Ellen Pellman as Emma Nolan. Pellman really stole the show. She was the best part of the whole musical and IMO she outshined everyone.
I really wish Ryan Murphy checked his ego and focused his cast on new talents or smaller names. I loved Kidman and Rannells – but Corden and Streep both felt incredibly inauthentic in this.
There was a significant amount of criticism of the choice to cast Corden. From a business standpoint I get it. He’s massively popular in the UK; he has a Tony Award and his roles in The History Boys and One Man, Two Guvnors helped make him a theatre star (so well respected in the theatre community); and his talk show is instant press for the project. That being said, people really hate him. I personally love him and I even had some criticisms of his performance in this role. There was a lot of chatter about how the role should have gone to someone *actually* gay. I would agree. This show is about the LGBTQ+ community and thus the on screen talent should have reflected that. However – I’m curious if the choice to cast him was made by an LGBTQ+ team. I think there is a question here about the percentage of LGBTQ+ people involved in this project – including the crew. I don’t just want representation in front of the camera and I also want it behind the camera too in creative leadership roles (beyond Murphy). So I agree – they should have cast Tituss Burgess (who I saw on Broadway in The Little Mermaid and he’s unreal).
Onto Meryl. She is obviously a Queen, she clearly had a lot of fun doing this and really that’s what matters. Is The Prom her *best*? No. But it’s fine. I do love her and the Key’s little romance. That was fun. Similarly, Washington is a very good actress but I don’t believe her as a “villain mom”. Overall it feels like a lot of “names” without a lot of substance to back it up. It’s also distracting from our breakout gal who is PHENOMENAL.
Kidman and Rannels were the only two celebrities who didn’t distract me. They both blended into the movie (I bought that they were their characters) and they actually helped elevate Pellman’s performance. But overall – I really wish we went with less famous people.
4 . Is the production design good?
This is where the movie version wins. The production design was FANTASTIC. It was campy, colourful, and glittery in the way I want a musical about a inclusive prom to be. It just looked stunning. By last confetti canon I was totally engaged in the world they created. From costumes to sets – it’s clear there was a lot of money pumped into this. It was glossy and wonderful. Big fan. No complaints here.
5. What’s the overall vibe at the end?
Despite some of the problems previously mentioned, I left smiling. I had fun. If I saw it on Broadway I would have thought: that was fun… what’s next? Let’s keep the vibes going! I wonder if I was younger if I would have been absolutely in love with this. I feel like middle schoolers or kids 11-15 would love this. They aren’t jaded about James, the glitz and glamour would be incredible. The story would feel less tired. Overall – it was not the best, not the worst. Would I watch it again, no. Was I glad I saw it at all, yes. Would I have paid for this movie if it was in theatres… no. But it’s perfect on Netflix.
What I actually loved watching was this:
The Prom is now streaming on Netflix.