by Kit Bowen 10 December, 2020
The Prom is one of those musicals that mixes a very relevant message with some splashy, old-timey song and dance routines you can’t miss!
Taken from a real-life story and based on the Broadway musical, this on-screen version follows a high school girl (Jo Ellen Pellman), who is out and wants to take her girlfriend (Ariana DeBose) (who isn't out) to her prom in a small conservative Indiana town.
While the school’s principal (Keegan-Michael Key) is sympathetic, the head of the PTA (Kerry Washington) is determined to stop the prom at any cost.
Enter a troupe of hilariously self-obsessed theater stars (Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman and Andrew Rannells), who hear about this young girl’s plight and decide to champion her (and gain some much-needed good PR). Of course, not all their "good intentions" are necessarily met with success and soon the Broadway stars, too, learn a few life lessons of their own.
At the recent press conference, we got to sit in on a great conversation about the musical with director Ryan Murphy and the stellar cast, including Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Keegan-Michael Key, Andrew Rannells, Kerry Washington and bright newcomers Jo Ellen Pellman and Ariana DeBose.
Here is how the story resonated with each and what the experience was like making the movie:
Director Ryan Murphy said he saw the Broadway musical during a “dark” period in 2019 and he loved the joy and optimism to the story. It left him laughing and crying and having a “very big personal experience” because he hails from Indiana, and he didn’t go to his prom. He just felt good when he left the theater and loved how it is a valentine to old school musical comedy.
Jo Ellen Pellman (“Emma Nolan”) felt connected, too, because she’s from Cincinnati, Ohio, as well as being a big musical theater kid. Plus, she identifies as queer, having come out in high school. Telling this story with this cast was a “dream come true” for her.
Ariana DeBose (“Alyssa Greene”), who has starred in many Broadway productions including Hamilton, saw The Prom three times on Broadway and each time that she saw it, she even more moved by it. She also noticed in the audience lots of young girls, particularly young girls of color. She went after the role because she knows how important it is to see yourself and your experience reflected on the screen: “If you see it, you can do it.” She treasured her time with the stellar cast.
Meryl Streep (“Dee Dee Allen”) saw the musical and was astonished that it was closing because the theater was packed. She had never seen an audience react to something so passionately – laughing, crying and cheering at the end. And when she saw that her character didn’t dance all that much, she was encouraged. Turns out, however, Streep had to do a LOT of dancing for the movie. She laughed she got in shape and it was hard work but REALLY fun. She added that she actually loves to watch dancing in musicals.
Keegan-Michael Key (“Principal Tom Hawkins”) said he was “nervous with anticipation and exhilaration” to kiss Streep in the film. “If you’re a theater kid, 22 years old, and your future self comes in and says, ‘In 2020, you’re going to be Meryl Streep’s love interest in a movie,’ you’d be like, ‘Get out of here, lying demon! You’re not real!’” He praised Murphy for allowing he and Streep to have time to get to know each other and rehearse.
Kerry Washington (“Mrs. Greene”) said that as a culture, we did need to heal right now, but that pop culture can spark social change. She believes that stories in movies and TV shows, sitting in stillness, help inform us of who we are and what we stand for. “We get in touch with our humanity, on who we are, who we want to be or don’t want to be.” She adds it’s not the only way to create change, “we people in the streets, we need people voting,” but she thinks art is a part of that conversation, especially the power of this story about acceptance and creating a community. “I’m happy to be the bad guy and try to get in the way but am unsuccessful.”
Andrew Rannells (“Trent Oliver”) said he took an older woman to his prom. “She was 20 and the difference between a 17-year-old and a 20-year-old was pretty significant; she was a woman.” He said he gained some major cred for bringing her.
Nicole Kidman (“Angie Dickinson”) loved her relationship between Angie and Emma in the film, as well as her relationship with Pellman, the idea of an older woman helping a younger woman by just being there for her. Kidman said she bonded with Pellman on set, sharing stories, and then doing the scene on the bed, eating ice cream, just made it more special. Plus, Kidman was blown away by DeBose and Pellman’s amazing talent, even intimidated at times. “Help me, girls, help me!”
James Corden (“Barry Glickman”) really felt the connection between Barry and Emma. The fact Barry and the other stars go to this small town in Indiana as this “cynical and self-serving escapade,” only to see it turn into more a journey of self-discovery as Barry identifies with Emma and her plight. Corden was also amazed by Pellman and her star power. “I’ll be telling everyone that I was in the first movie Jo Ellen ever did!”
The Prom will be streaming exclusively on Netflix beginning Friday, December 11, 2020