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Home ENTERTAINMENT 'The Prom' unleashes its stars in an infectious, high-energy musical

‘The Prom’ unleashes its stars in an infectious, high-energy musical

Director Ryan Murphy isn’t known for understatement, but at least here he’s on turf closer to “Glee” than “American Horror Story.” Perhaps foremost, he has provided a best-seat-in-the-house view of the 2018 Tony-nominated musical, blowing it up to levels that wouldn’t be possible on stage and can barely be accommodated on a TV screen.

The hook of Chad Beguelin, Bob Martin and Matthew Sklar’s production hinges on a group of self-involved Broadway performers who descend on a small Indiana town, looking for an activist cause and “some little injustice” to address — seeking the good publicity that might save their show after a disastrous opening. They settle on helping Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman), whose announcement that she wanted to bring another girl to the prom as her date prompted the homophobic PTA president (Kerry Washington) to cancel the event entirely.

Ellen’s uninvited benefactors, however, have trouble initially putting the girl’s interests first, while providing a virtual clinic on showbiz insecurities and self-obsession. The brightest light among them, naturally, is Meryl Streep’s Dee Dee, an imperious star with a touch of Norma Desmond in her, who tries to upgrade her three-star hotel room by brandishing one of her conveniently-packed Tonys.

Dee Dee’s companions include her co-star Barry (James Corden, in an “Into the Woods” reunion), chorus girl Angie (Nicole Kidman) and the less-heralded Trent (Andrew Rannells), who name-drops attending Julliard within minutes of meeting anyone. They’re aided by the school’s progressive principal (Keegan-Michael Key), an avid Broadway fan, and less so by Emma’s girlfriend (Ariana DeBose), who is more apprehensive about coming out.

The show features some beautiful and buoyant songs — “It’s Time to Dance” among the latter — but “The Prom” really sparkles with its show-business-insider touches and theater references. Those range from Streep’s preening star (her singing voice has never sounded better, incidentally) to Rannells announcing, “We are liberals from Broadway,” which the locals treat like the arrival of flying monkeys in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Whatever the big-name contingent might lack, the younger players compensate for with wonderfully energetic song-and-dance numbers and true Broadway belts. Granted, the underlying themes about bridging cultural and geographic divides feels a tad simplistic in the current climate, but the movie is completely unabashed about the wishful aspect of that — a bit like Murphy’s alternate history in “Hollywood” — in a way that compensates for its not-exactly-light touch.

“We’re still celebrities,” Barry says reassuringly as those crushing early reviews pour in. “We still have power.”

“The Prom” is indeed a demonstration of star power at work, but it’s mostly a valentine to theater — at a time when theaters are closed — coupled with an overt message about LGBTQ acceptance and inclusion. All of that comes wrapped in a big neon bow, a joyous holiday gift for fans of musical theater, made by people who love the medium every bit as much as they do.

“The Prom” premieres Dec. 11 on Netflix.

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