‘The Prom’: Ryan Murphy’s New Netflix Movie Hides a Devastating Story In Uplifting Songs

The Prom must’ve been a joyous show to see live on stage. Director Ryan Murphy adapts the show as a new Netflix movie with such flare. It’s got catchy songs, rousing choreography and a poignant story. The Prom will give you the feels. 

Meryl Streep and James Corden | Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix

However, those feels include the whole gamut of emotions, including the heartbreaking one. Underneath The Prom’s fun celebration is a devastating story that’s all too real. The Prom premieres Dec. 11 in select theaters and on Netflix.

Broadway goes to ‘The Prom’

When a bunch of has been Broadway stars come to Indiana, there is a bit of fish out of water comedy. The spoiled theater folks have to adjust to small town America. There’s a bit of a spoof of the formula and legacy of Broadway itself.

The Prom Pellman and DeBose
L-R: Jo Ellen Pellman and Ariana DeBose | Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix

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However, their mission is a very relevant cause. The PTA is trying to keep Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman) from bringing her girlfriend to the prom. Kids like Emma live this every day. Don’t ever forget that there are kids living in places that don’t accept them, and remind them of it publicly. 

The messages in the music

Most of the original music by Jack Viertel, Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin follow Broadway song modes. Barry and Dee Dee introduce themselves with a peppy intro. Emma sings her “I want” song. Emma and her girlfriend Alyssa (Ariana DeBose) sing a duet ballad. Many of the songs give Meryl Streep some high notes and she readily obliges. Nicole Kidman gets a Chicagoy jazz number. 

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There are some witty observations within these songs. The lyrics reference other plays and concepts like stage lighting. They actually rhyme lesbian with thespian, taking back an immature joke Beavis and Butt-Head used to make. Even the most uplifting numbers in The Prom are setting you up for a big fall. 

At the end of a rousing ensemble number that includes most of the cast, The Prom reminds you what this is really about. This entire school is persecuting a teenage girl. So have fun with The Prom, but remember it takes more than a song and dance to bring tolerance to communities. 

Ryan Murphy’s adaptation makes the message even more palpable

Murphy expands the musical set pieces of The Prom beyond the stage. Dances cover more ground and the camera moves, or an epic dance crew backs up the leads in spaces wider than any Broadway stage. When they take place in a mall, or a high school with hallways, classrooms and gymnasiums, it places the musical in the milieu in which real life Emmas live. You can suspend your disbelief on stage, but there’s something about seeing an empty gym in real life that drives the point home. 

Ryan Murphy directed The Prom
L-R: Nico Greetham, Logan Riley, Ariana DeBose, Andrew Rannells, Jo Ellen Pellman, Sofia Deler Nathaniel Potvin, Tracey Ullman, James Corden, | Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix

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The high school characters do the most awesome choreography. Lots of movies pass off 20something dancers as teenagers. Logan Riley, Sofia Deler, Nico Greetham and Nathaniel J. Potvin lead those sequences as the mean girls and their boyfriends. That’s a familiar trope of film and television, though, so viewers have long since accepted actors playing younger. 

The Prom is a feel good musical to close out the year with joy, but it earns it. There are difficult choices and painful realizations to accept along the way and The Prom is honest about those too. Those hardships don’t have to be a slog though and The Prom celebrates the perseverance of people who are true to themselves.