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'The Prom' Musical Moves From Broadway To Cinema Screens

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

All right. Well, the pandemic may have closed down Broadway theaters, but Broadway musicals keep resurfacing somehow, like "Hamilton" on Disney Plus. And the latest is "The Prom," in cinemas and soon on Netflix. It has what critic Bob Mondello says is a dream cast.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: We begin at the opening night for a musical about Eleanor Roosevelt. Its leading lady, played by Meryl Streep, is in full diva mode.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PROM")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) You're a Broadway star.

MERYL STREEP: (As Dee Dee Allen) Yes, I am.

MONDELLO: And for self-absorption, Dee Dee's easily matched by her co-star, played by James Corden.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PROM")

JAMES CORDEN: (As Barry Glickman) From the moment I first stepped into FDR's shoes - and when I say shoes, I mean wheelchair - I realized there is no difference between the president of the United States and a celebrity.

MONDELLO: Well, there's something to that. Regardless, the reviews are lethal. And their producer tells them...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PROM")

KEVIN CHAMBERLIN: (As Sheldon Saperstein) It's not the show, it's you two. You're just not likable.

STREEP: (As Dee Dee Allen) What?

CORDEN: (As Barry Glickman) What?

CHAMBERLIN: (As Sheldon Saperstein) Nobody likes a narcissist.

MONDELLO: So how to fix that? They decide to recognize the virtue of virtue signalling, which is to say pretending to care about someone else. Actor-turned-bartender Andrew Rannells and perpetual chorus dancer Nicole Kidman are on board for some celebrity activism. Now...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PROM")

CORDEN: (As Barry Glickman) All we need is a cause.

STREEP: (As Dee Dee Allen) A cause celeb (ph).

CORDEN: (As Barry Glickman) We need something we can handle.

STREEP: (As Dee Dee Allen) Some little injustice we can drive to.

NICOLE KIDMAN: (As Angie Dickinson) What about this girl?

MONDELLO: Twitter to the rescue.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PROM")

KIDMAN: (As Angie Dickinson) Oh, my gosh. Check this out.

ANDREW RANNELLS: (As Trent Oliver) What girl?

KIDMAN: (As Angie Dickinson) She's from Edgewater, Ind. She's a lesbian. She wanted to take her girlfriend to the high school prom, and the PTA went and canceled it.

CORDEN: (As Barry Glickman) They canceled prom? Are they allowed to do that?

KIDMAN: (As Angie Dickinson) No.

MONDELLO: So they've got their cause. The stars, as it were, have a line.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PROM")

CORDEN: (As Barry Glickman, singing) We're going to help that little lesbian, whether she likes it or not.

MONDELLO: These vainglorious do-gooders are as insecure and status-obsessed as any teenager, something you wouldn't say about that little lesbian they're helping.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PROM")

JO ELLEN PELLMAN: (As Emma Nolan, singing) Note to self, don't be gay in Indiana.

MONDELLO: She is confidently played...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PROM")

PELLMAN: (As Emma Nolan, singing) Big heads-up, that's a really stupid plan.

MONDELLO: ...By newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PROM")

PELLMAN: (As Emma Nolan, singing) There are places where it's in to be out. Maybe San Francisco or there about. But in Indiana, without a doubt, if you're not straight, then guess what's bound to hit the fan?

MONDELLO: Note the red-state-blue-state divide she's calling out here. Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin wrote "The Prom" a few years ago, when national divisions were easier to joke about. Still, there is, as a certain public figure might note, cluelessness on both sides, especially from Streep's extravagantly fabulous diva who leads the showbiz assault on an unsuspecting PTA meeting.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PROM")

KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY: (As Mr. Hawkins) Oh, my God. That's Dee Dee Allen.

STREEP: (As Dee Dee Allen, singing) I want to tell the people of whatever this town's called...

MONDELLO: She's channeling her inner Patti LuPone.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PROM")

STREEP: (As Dee Dee Allen, singing) Listen, you bigoted monsters, just who do you think you are? Your prejudice and your oppression won't get past this Broadway star.

MONDELLO: This proves not all that helpful, but it does get a conversation started with school principal Keegan-Michael Key, who is charming, a big Broadway fan and, to Dee Dee's intrigued astonishment, straight.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PROM")

STREEP: (As Dee Dee Allen) Tell me - never said this before to anyone - tell me about you.

KEY: (As Mr. Hawkins) About me?

STREEP: (As Dee Dee Allen) Yeah.

KEY: (As Mr. Hawkins) I'm just a small-town principal, single.

STREEP: (As Dee Dee Allen) Sorry?

KEY: (As Mr. Hawkins) I'm single. Just putting that out there.

STREEP: (As Dee Dee Allen) Really?

MONDELLO: Producer-director Ryan Murphy, of "Glee" fame, goes big for the big screen - big performances, broad winks at the audience. He built his own Broadway when he couldn't get permission to shut down Times Square, staged production numbers at monster truck rallies, added new characters and then sprinkled glitter and cherry blossoms all over everything.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PROM")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) It's time to build a prom for everyone. Show them all...

MONDELLO: The effect, stretched over two-plus hours, can be a bit much, but credit Murphy with harnessing both dance energy and unfettered star power to showcase an inclusive story about gay sweethearts...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PROM")

PELLMAN: (As Emma Nolan, singing) I just want to dance with you.

MONDELLO: ...Who bring a Disney princess vibe to a story that happily seems about as controversial as apple pie. Ryan Murphy's had something to do with that, having made TV safe for shows like "Pose." This feels like his victory lap.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PROM")

PELLMAN: (As Emma Nolan, singing) No one can convince us we were wrong. All it takes is you and me and a song.

MONDELLO: Nice that that's where commercial entertainment is, where we are, at last. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PROM")

ARIANA DEBOSE: (As Alyssa Greene, singing) I don't need a big production, streamers hanging in the air. I don't need to spend the night with confetti in my hair. I don't need a room of people that I don't really know... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.