As a stage musical, The Prom, written by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin, with songs by Beguelin and Matthew Sklar, was a little musical that could. Premiering in Atlanta in 2016, it transferred to Broadway in 2018, where it ran for almost a year. As a film, it arrives with considerably more fanfare as part of Netflix's awards season slate, with Glee and American Horror Story impresario Ryan Murphy and one of the year's starriest ensembles attached.
In the film, Meryl Streep and James Corden play Dee Dee Allen and Barry Glickman, two fading Broadway stars in trouble after their latest show – Eleanor!, a musical about the life of Eleanor Roosevelt – closes after opening night.
Drowning their sorrows over poor reviews, they are joined by ageing chorus-line hoofer Angie (Nicole Kidman) and unemployed actor Trent (The Book of Mormon's Andrew Rannells). The quartet hatch a comeback plan that involves travelling to Edgewater, Indiana, to rally behind a student named Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman), a gay high-schooler whose plans to attend her prom with a girl have prompted the head of the PTA (Kerry Washington) to cancel the event altogether.
Well, not if Meryl & co can sweep into the school gymnasium and perform “It’s Not About Me” first.
Murphy, directing a feature film for the first time since Eat, Pray, Love, lays on plenty of razzle dazzle. (There’s even a Bob Fosse-inspired number called Zazz.) The Prom is an old-fashioned, high-kicking, toe-tapping feelgood musical, unaffected by the post-Hamilton vogue for quotable quips and genre-defying tunes. For the most part, The Prom has its cake and eats it as a self-effacing comedy about a divided America in which LGBTQ-supporting celebrities are lightly satirised by LGBTQ-supporting celebrities.
Corden has rather unfairly received some criticism for playing a gay character, but his vocals justify the casting. Streep hasn't had this much fun on screen since The Devil Wears Prada. Kidman brings warmth and a babydoll voice. Newcomers Jo Ellen Pellman and Ariana DeBose prove themselves capable of outshining their A-list screen partners.
It’s unlikely to be this year’s Greatest Showman but it’s more than an improvement on Christmas 2019’s Cats. The songs are good. The camerawork and editing is impressive. And – spoiler alert – divided America gets to live happily ever after.
The Prom is in cinemas and on Netflix from December 11th