With a little tea and just a hint of shade, I am truly excited that the NETFLIX adaptation of the (beloved but short lived) Broadway show, THE PROM, is almost here. Because the bottom line in Hollywood has always been dollars before any of our artistic feelings, stage to screen adaptations have always been risky. There are many theater loving people who cannot make it to New York City to see a show, and the movie musical is their only ticket to that experience. Many of us of a certain generation will also include Original Broadway Cast (OBC) recordings and film soundtracks as our FIRST gateway to musical theater. I worry about what happens to the theater after this pandemic.
YouTube has changed this for all of us, and outlets like Broadway HD and Netflix have stepped up the availability and quality of the content. Of course, there are so many rumblings among the hard working members of the theatrical community about how THE PROM’s adaptation gives no real love to the original Broadway artisans who for 8 shows a week brought literal joy to us all. But remember, it’s dollars before your artistic feelings.
From Top L to R: Caitlin Kinnunen, Christopher Sieber. Bottom L to R: Michael Potts, me, Beth Leavel
Many fans of the show who had the great fortune of seeing the original cast, will not deny Beth Leavel, Brooks Ashmanskas, Christopher Seiber, Angie Schworer, and in her breakout, leading lady role, Caitlin Kinnunen their due. Get the cast recording and see what I mean. I do not mean to begrudge or shade the celebrity casting, because they have all tread the boards at various points in their careers, and some to Tony Award© nominations and wins. However, to those who have worked consistently as stage artists to the ceiling of notoriety and salary caps that only a Broadway career can comfortably provide, a starring role in a project this huge could make the difference of one of those hard working thespians to have THAT moment.
In the supporting roles in the film, Ariana Debose ( from Broadway’s HAMILTON, A BRONX TALE, SUMMER, Anita in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming film remake of WEST SIDE STORY), Andrew Rannells ( Broadway’s HAIRSPRAY, BOOK OF MORMON, FALSETTOS, BOYS IN THE BAND- Broadway and Netflix film, and plenty of TV credits), and Kevin Chamberlin (Broadway’s DISASTER, WICKED, SEUSSICAL, THE RITZ and consistent and varied TV credits , the dream is coming true for these hardworking stage actors, as well.
The 50’s and 60’s are years of cinematic precedent of OBC members getting screwed out of the roles in the transfer to screen for bigger names, Ethel Merman for Rosalind Russell in GYPSY, Barbara Cook for Shirley Jones in THE MUSIC MAN, Chita Rivera for Rita Moreno in WEST SIDE STORY, Chita Rivera for Janet Leigh in BYE BYE BIRDIE , Julie Andrews for Audrey Hepburn in MY FAIR LADY, Mary Martin for Julie Andrews in SOUND OF MUSIC, Gwen Verdon for Shirley MacClaine in SWEET CHARITY, Carol Channing for Barbra Streisand in HELLO DOLLY.
From L to R: Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Ted Ross (only one from OBC), and Nipsey Russell.
From the more contemporary musicals, Stephanie Mills for Diana Ross in THE WIZ (some black folks are STILL mad about that one), Cady Huffman for Uma Thurman in THE PRODUCERS, Bebe Neuwirth and Catherine Zeta Jones in CHICAGO, are all divas denied the ultimate reward of recording their creation from stage to cinematic glory. Most people do not think about the men as deeply, but Robert Alda for Marlon Brando in GUYS AND DOLLS, and Harvey Fierstein for John Travolta in HAIRSPRAY, come to my mind quickly. Yul Brynner kept THE KING AND I, and Joel Grey kept CABARET, but at least Harvey got to do the Live TV version on NBC.
Now before I get catty, I would like to thank Ryan Murphy. GLEE captured the inner angst of so many teens, both gay and straight. He moved a whole new generation with choreography and a song in their heart. He single-handedly restored honor and self-esteem to the high school band fags, drama queens, and choir geeks everywhere, in a way that not even FAME did for my generation. (Oops, I am giving away my age.) There is not a gay man that has not had a private moment with themselves to many of the shows helmed by this mogul. I have 2 words for you, NIP/TUCK. Okay? His numerous TV projects have kept many noted stage thespians working, like Patti LuPone, Billy Porter, Sarah Paulson, Cheyenne Jackson, and Jessica Lange, to name a few. So he has certainly opened the door and brought visibility to many theater notables.
What Ryan Murphy did by bringing BOYS IN THE BAND to Netflix with the original Broadway cast was inspired. Among the cast are some pretty high profile folks like Zachary Quinto, Jim Parsons, Andrew Rannells, Tuc Watkins, and Matt Bomer. All of whom have super high Q ratings compared to their other supporting castmates, Michael Benjamin Washington, Charlie Carver, Brian Hutchison and Robin De Jesus, but it was Robin De Jesus who garnered the Tony Award© nomination for the production. It was actually his third nomination. Now there are just that many more people that know who he is. My inner catty queen tells me that if Ricky Martin had expressed interest in De Jesus’ role, there might have been a dust up for sure. In any case, Ryan Murphy in one move went from not only being a godsend to television, but a new champion of theater.
Me with 3x Tony Award© Nominee, Robin De Jesus
The streaming service, Broadway HD, has a large library of live recordings of theatrical shows from both Broadway and The West End. They also have a library of movie musicals, as well. Netflix, along with Ryan Murphy, has managed to add that cinematic “je ne sais quoi” that brings new dimensions to the original storytelling.
THE PROM did not get any of that De Jesus magic for Beth Leavel, Brooks Ashmanskas, Christopher Seiber, nor Angie Schworer. Meryl Streep will be adopting Leavel’s Broadway baby, Dee Dee, and putting her stamp on it. Nicole Kidman put the kibosh on Schworer’s Zazz. 2x Tony Award nominee, Andrew Rannells, takes the role from 2x Tony Award nominee, Christopher Sieber. Brooks’ Barry character gets appropriated by James Corden, and word on the street is very shady about the performance. Corden does respond to the backlash, but when you look at the list of people replaced, perhaps that role could have been given to Nathan Lane, if not the stage originator? Even after making her debut to the world with a same sex kiss on TV, along with her Broadway debut, Caitlin Kinnunen was taken out by another newcomer, Jo Ellen Pellman. Murphy could have thrown Caitlin a bone.
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From L to R: Andrew Rannells, Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman
I have my theories about casting, and I am always Team Beth Leavel. She does have to admit that when your agent tells you that you’ve lost your role to Meryl Streep, you can only get so angry. Let’s face it. It’s Meryl Streep. She can steal your husbands, use them, and send them back to you because she is Meryl Streep. The universe did Miss Beth a solid favor by casting her in the upcoming musical adaptation of THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA karmically in the Meryl Streep role. Angie Schworer can get only so mad when Nicole Kidman wants your role. Sorry Ange, but she’s got the legs and the Hollywood clout to get whatever she wants.
Andrew Rannells already had a previous relationship with Ryan Murphy with BOYS IN THE BAND, so I could see how Christopher Sieber got the boot. For the theater lovers out there, imagine Brooks Ashmanskas’ mannerisms and talents being shared with Netflix audiences, alongside these well-known and respected performers. The world will never know now.
They decided to open up the casting by putting in someone not known for her musical prowess as the seemingly intolerant, Mrs. Green. Emmy Award© winning producer, actress, and television bad ass, Kerry Washington , has tread the boards of Broadway in David Mamet’s RACE. She also has a relationship with Netflix after they turned her last moment on Broadway, AMERICAN SON, into a multi-camera teleplay. However, I am sure Ms. Washington was called by Mr. Murphy when he couldn’t secure 6x Tony Award© winner, Audra McDonald, right?
The message of THE PROM is truly so beautiful that if Ryan Murphy would have kept the original cast and filled in the rest with Broadway extras, it would still be just as highly anticipated as it is now with the star casting. The story of how Ryan Murphy kept the production whole, like with BOYS IN THE BAND, would have made it legendary.
On John Fugelsang’s Tell Me Everything, SiriusXM Progress, Channel 127
©Keith Price 2020