Friday, December 11, 2020

The Prom


Somewhere in Broadway, a new play about Eleanor Roosevelt’s life gets lambasted by critics; its lead stars dismissed as aging narcissists. Two-time Tony Award winner Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) turns to alcohol, while her openly gay leading man Barry Glickman (James Corden) thinks taking up a cause could bring them their much-needed PR. Meanwhile, forever chorus girl Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman) stumbles upon a local scandal in Edgewater on Twitter. Next thing they know, they are all on their way to Indiana on a school bus full of theater kids in a tour organized by Juilliard graduate and co-worker Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells). There they get embroiled in an ongoing high school drama involving young lesbian Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman), whose school’s PTA led by conservative Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington) decides to cancel prom to prevent her from attending with her yet unknown girlfriend. What follows is a battle of belief systems regarding the ever-relevant theme of inclusivity peppered with glitter, impromptu song-and-dance numbers, and all that Broadway sass.

It is great to watch an adaptation of a Broadway musical that is partly about theater life. LGBTQ+ rights is definitely the main theme that binds it all together, but we do get a bird’s eye view of the industry through the perspective of the likes of a Broadway Diva, a perpetual understudy, and those who are yet to make it big, as well as the issues they have to tackle in their own little bubble. In a way, this musical also serves as some sort of veiled critique of the theater industry, even though they do not really delve into that.

Perhaps the good thing about this adaptation is that it allows its newbies to shine despite having big names in the billing. Streep, Kidman, and Corden are no strangers to Hollywood musicals. While they do get their solo numbers, the focus of the story remains on the forbidden lovers. In this regard, Pellman and Ariana DeBose, who plays Alyssa Greene, get to take a shot on their fifteen seconds of fame. If this outing does not result in a stable Hollywood or Netflix career, Broadway could always be an option for them.

Not having seen the onstage version, there really is no point of comparison for me, even though I really want to see it on Broadway now, at least when it reopens. The theme is ever timely but getting annoyingly repetitive, not because it is not worth fighting for, but for the mere reason that the premise is so simple. That we are still having discussions and resistance for something as fundamental as equal rights for everyone in 2020, no matter what their gender may be, is, simply put, befuddling at best.

Perhaps that is also the reason why there is no strong antagonist in this story. Washington is just there as a loose personification of the antiquated beliefs still prevalent in the Midwest, but that very same backward thinking is already the villain here. Sometimes it makes you lose faith in humanity, but maybe that is why such a constant reminder for tolerance is necessary. If people just could not take a hint, might as well shove it down their throats. Who knows, maybe there is still hope for the younger generation.

With Broadway’s lights dimmed for almost a year now due to the Coronavirus pandemic, The Prom is a welcome sigh of relief for all theater junkies who have been cut off from their much-needed pilgrimage to the Great White Way. This adaptation is not perfect, but for the time being, it will do. Seeing Broadway recreated onscreen reeks of nostalgia of not so long ago, before this new normal has set in, and Principal Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key) effectively puts into words all our sentiments regarding the matter. Broadway will return, and so will we. For now, we stick to the screen.

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