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‘The Prom’ First Reactions: A ‘Burst of Joy’ for Musical Fans in a ‘Dumpster Fire of a Year’

Ryan Murphy's star-studded movie premiered for a select few on Sunday. First reactions range from rapturous to mixed.

THE PROM (L to R) MERYL STREEP as DEE DEE ALLEN, JAMES CORDEN as BARRY GLICKMAN in THE PROM. Cr. MELINDA SUE GORDON/NETFLIX © 2020

“The Prom”

MELINDA SUE GORDON/NETFLIX

The world has finally seen “The Prom,” Ryan Murphy’s star-studded Netflix musical led by Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden, Kerry Washington, Keegan-Michael Key, Andrew Rannells, and newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman. Select audiences, industry, and press were treated to the world premiere of the film on Netflix on Sunday, and a wide range of first reactions from the screening are emerging. See below.

“The Prom” is the film version of Chad Beguelin, Bob Martin and Matthew Sklar’s award-winning, Tony-nominated Broadway musical. “The reason that [the musical] spoke to me is I wished when I was young I had a film like this to see,” Murphy said in a Q& after the film. “I wished that when I was growing up, I did not feel so alone in my life. Like Jo Ellen’s character, I am also from Indiana. It was a very similar feeling where I was searching for a community and a place to belong, and I just love that the musical was actually about something. It was about the fight to be seen, and be included in the conversation.”

In the film, has-been Broadway star Dee Dee (Meryl Streep), a two-time Tony Award winner, pairs up with Barry Glickman (Corden) in a musical about Eleanor Roosevelt. With career-killing reviews, it closes on opening night, so the two decide to revive their reputations by throwing their weight behind a charity cause. They’re joined by veteran Broadway chorus girl Angie Dickinson (Kidman), along with out-of-luck actor Trent Oliver (Rannells), in saving the day for Emma Nolan (Pellman), a high-school senior barred from bringing her girlfriend Alyssa (Ariana DeBose) to the big dance.

As for Meryl Streep’s unique casting as showboat Dee Dee Allen, Meryl joked, “It was such a stretch playing someone so vain and overrated, a big fat narcissist! I don’t know where I pulled it from,” while adding that she, personally, is “not a diva.”

Nicole Kidman gets to do some jazzy Fosse dancing in the film, a first for the actress who’s appeared in musicals like “Moulin Rouge!” and ‘Nine” before. “Ryan organized for me to be surrounded by these Broadway dancers who, that’s what they do,” she said. “I started and thought, ‘I’m never going to be able to climb this mountain’… but suddenly being educated in that, and having this team of people cheerlead me and make me believe I could do it, was just wonderful.”

Washington plays uptight PTA head (and Alyssa’s mom) Mrs. Greene in the film, bringing the character more depth than seen in the stage version, and in a spectacular show-stopping final number. She said she “wormed my way into the dance number at the end. At some point when we were filming, because I grew up in musical theater… I was like, Ryan, don’t you think Mrs. Greene should be in the finale?”

The cast was unanimous in giving a shout-out to Netflix for taking the movie from stage to screen, especially amid a dark hour for Broadway. “So many people can just click on and watch this, and hopefully the message of unconditional love and joy will be felt through the screen,” Kidman said of what is ultimately a love letter to tolerance.

“I hope that when people turn off the show they say, ‘Let’s go back and watch it again.’ Because that’s something you just can’t do with a play,” Streep said.

The movie arrives on Netflix globally and in select theaters on December 11. Sunday’s screening was presented with The Actors Fund, Broadway Cares, and the American Film Institute.

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