Recently released on Netflix, new Broadway-inspired flick, ‘The Prom’ comes in the wake of a performing arts industry shutdown by the pandemic.
As a stellar, sappy, and unapologetically camp musical, the story resonates with audiences of today and explores the heartbreaking story of a small-town Indiana teenager who just wants to go to prom with her girlfriend. Adapted for the screen from the original 2018 Broadway musical by Matthew Sklar and directed by Ryan Murphy, the Netflix film adaptation features a star-studded cast including Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Keegan-Michael Key, Andrew Rannells, Ariana DeBose, Kerry Washington, and Jo Ellen Pellman.
But big names aside, ‘The Prom’ is proving there is so much more to this film than what meets the eye. Shamelessly challenging small-mindedness and anti-gay rhetoric whilst celebrating diversity, inclusion, and love, this story is ground-breaking and finally manages to bring lesbian voices to the forefront of mainstream film and musical theatre.
Although musical theatre is often described as “camp”, there actually aren’t that many stories featuring LGBTQ+ main characters. When someone asks you to name one, we’re limited for selection: ‘Kinky Boots’, ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’, ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’, ‘The Producers’, ‘Spring Awakening’ or ‘The Rocky Horror Show’. While there is no doubt that these stories have played their part in thrusting LGBTQ+ characters forward in the world of musical theatre, there is one important ingredient they seem to be missing – none of them tells the story of female lesbian or queer characters.
As LGBTQ+ representation in musical theatre has steadily grown, it seems like their inclusion in the portrayal of leading women remains sparse. There have been some notable musical theatre productions featuring gay women including ‘The Color Purple’, ‘Rent’, ‘Falsettos’ and ‘Fun Home’. However, mainstream Broadway and big-screen musical theatre films rarely showcase them as the centre storyline.
That’s where Netflix’s ‘The Prom’ comes in. In a revolutionary twist, this film unashamedly and boldly tells a female-centric story. Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman) is the fiercely brave, yet disarmingly vulnerable lesbian hero of musical theatre. Her girlfriend, Alyssa Greene (Ariana DeBose), is perhaps not as bold as Emma, but her story is one of courage in the face of adversity, nonetheless. Finally, a mainstream musical casting that spotlights a story that needs to be told.
‘The Prom’ slowly unravels the painfully sad and sentimental stories that show the perseverance of its supporting characters. Specifically, it’s impossible to hold back tears when Barry Glickman’s (James Corden) mother apologises and embraces her gay son for the first time in years. It’s also inspirational to watch the seemingly narcissistic Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) discover her own propensity for giving and putting others before herself.
Another great takeaway message from this film is that ‘The Prom’ encourages unconditional love. This clearly resonates in the kind and dedicated school principal, Tom Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key), who loves and supports Emma. He also sees the good in Dee Dee and reminds us all why we need artists – a topical point of conversation in an industry shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a post-COVID world, never has a song been as relevant and poignant as when Key’s sings the unforgettable “We Look to You” and reminds us why the world needs theatre and its artists:
“We look to you
To take us away
From the soul-crushing jobs
And emasculating pay
When our lives come up short
And our hopes are sad and few
You whisk us off to someplace strange and new
We look to you
In good times and bad
The worlds you create
Make the real ones seem less sad
The curtain goes up
And every now and then it feels as if we’re coming home again”
While audiences need a subscription to Netflix to access this movie (plans range from $10.99-$19.99 per month), it is a show that absolutely everyone needs to see. ‘The Prom’ not only is a ground-breaking musical-film that champions the stories of the LGBTQ+ community but also serves as a critical reminder of the power that the arts hold. Especially when it comes to uplifting the spirits, advocating compassion, and breathing love into the world.
The Prom’ is available to view and stream on Netflix Australia from 11 December 2020.