My Disappointment with "The Prom" Movie's Casting

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The Prom has far and away been my favorite new musical of the past year. While Hadestown is a work of art and deserving of its Best Musical Tony Award, I felt that no other show hit home more than The Prom, which is why it’s not surprising that Ryan Murphy was quick to swoop in to adapt the show into a feature film. When the announcement came in April, I was elated. Not only was one of my favorites getting a film version, but it was going to be on Netflix, which means endless watches and viewing parties with my peeps.

But casting announcements were posted today, and my feelings of excitement have transitioned to disappointment and indifference.

It was announced that Meryl Streep will star alongside James Corden, Nicole Kidman, and Ariana Grande, with Awkwafina, Keegan-Michael Key and Andrew Rannells playing key roles. Deadline reports that,

“Streep will play Dee Dee Allen, a two-time Tony winner who teams with Corden’s Barry Glickman in a flop musical about Eleanor Roosevelt. After career-ending reviews, they decide — along with Broadway babies Kidman as Angie Dickinson and Rannells (Book of Mormon) as Trent Oliver — to champion a cause to rehabilitate their careers. They find one in Emma, a high school senior in Indiana who isn’t allowed to take her girlfriend to the prom. A nationwide search led by casting director Alexa Fogel is on to fill the role of Emma.

Grande will star as Alyssa, a popular daughter of the head of the PTA. Awkwafina will play the group’s publicist Ms. Sheldon, and Key will play Streep’s love interest and Emma’s ally, Principal Hawkins.”

I’ll be frank that I thought they were going to take the original cast and film the whole thing in Orange County, NY. I was thrilled at the thought that the masses were going to see Beth Leavel, Caitlin Kinnunen, Brooks Ashmanskas, Christopher Sieber, Isabelle McCalla, Michael Potts, and Angie Schworer. Given that these roles were written for them, these folks deserve a movie credit like this and the earned exposure from it.

But that’s not going to happen because Mr. Murphy is going to make this as Hollywood as possible. Even with some Broadway experience within this cast, it just doesn’t feel like it has the same heart.

I’m not alone either, looking at my Facebook/Instagram/Twitter feeds, I see a lot of objection to the news. A lot of people are feeling the same way I am, just “meh” about all this.

I should have expected this. Especially since Murphy is changing the name of movie to just “Prom”. A change so small and inconsequential that it’s unnecessary.

But part of what made The Prom’s run so special was its cast. We were reminded of the greatness of Beth Leavel. Brooks Ashmanskas got the spotlight moment he deserved. Angie Schworer’s perfect casting and that Broadway would do better by casting Caitlin Kinnunen, Isabelle McCalla, and Josh Lamon in everything. For everyone who hasn’t seen this cast, you deserve to, and Ryan Murphy should have recognized that. Instead, he did the most Ryan Murphy thing.

What makes these casting decisions even more confusing is that the usual defenses for big stars to fill these roles isn’t in play. Because the movie will be released on Netflix, box office risk is eliminated. Sure maybe you need a glitzy cast to star in Les Miserables to sell tickets, but with Netflix, there is no box office, no grosses to worry about. The money is already there; they just need people to watch it. So the reasoning behind not casting the original cast is mind-boggling.

In the end, we’re getting another movie musical adaptation with a high profile Hollywood cast. These moves fail more than they win. The Prom movie’s casting feels like the prom that was planned behind the backs of the original Broadway cast, and they’re not allowed to attend.

UPDATE: Despite earlier reports that Grande would play the closeted girlfriend of protagonist Emma, as well as help produce the soundtrack, Billboard has confirmed that Grande will not be involved with the project due to the extension of her “Sweetener” tour, which runs through the end of 2019.