By ANNE SIEGEL
CHICAGO – It’s no secret that the recent opening of The Devil Wears Prada is a mere precursor to its 2023 Broadway run. Although no dates, theater or cast has been announced for the New York run, it’s a given that this new musical version of the hit 2006 film that starred Meryl Streep will eventually find its home on the Great White Way. The new musical plays until August 21 at Chicago’s James M. Nederlander Theatre.
The film – and the musical – are based on a novel by Lauren Weisberger, about her own early apprenticeship at Vogue magazine. In the book of the musical, Runway substitutes for Vogue magazine.
The musical’s book, which hews quite closely to the film, is written by Kate Wetherhead. For the uninitiated, Streep starred as the magazine’s icy editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly, who could whip her silver-haired head around to observe any little annoyance and who could stifle her colleagues with a withering glance. The lovely Anne Hathaway played Andrea Sachs (“Andy” for short), a recent journalism graduate who envisioned herself writing important articles about social injustice. Andy was not impressed by some frenzied creatives involved in promoting “mindless fashion.”
In the musical, Andy is played by Taylor Iman Jones. Like Hathaway in the film, Jones is introduced as a fashion doofus who wears a “lumpy sweater” with a plaid skirt. When a staffer poses the possibility of upscaling Emily’s wardrobe, she tells her, “You are a major makeover – home edition.” Ouch!
Eventually, Andy gets with the program. She emerges as a high-fashion butterfly, thanks to the efforts of the magazine’s creative director, Nigel, played by the remarkable Javier Muñoz. Andy’s transformation is superbly done in full view of the audience, and it deserves the applause it rightfully receives.
During this process, Nigel delivers the show’s best tune, “Dress Your Way Up.” Later, Nigel also gets another decent song, “Seen,” that’s meant to bond with L.G.B.T.Q. audience members. In it, Nigel recalls his painful childhood. He was picked on at school and misunderstood at home, until he flips through his mother’s copies of Runway and hopes to join the glamorous world of fashion. The magazine is a gay child’s dream.
As Miranda Priestly, veteran stage actor (and Tony Award winner) Beth Leavel obscures all memories of Meryl Streep. This character is completely hers to inhabit. Although Leavel’s hair is red, not silver, she succeeds in embodying a “mature” woman who’s not about to be pushed aside by anyone, whether it’s a husband (of which she has had a few) or a board of directors.
Much has been made in early press reports about Leavel’s outfits not being “fashionable” enough. But her character doesn’t need to follow fashion trends; she makes them. So what if her wardrobe tends toward the classic? She rocks it.
A Well-Rounded, Talented Cast
Assisting Beth Leavel and Taylor Iman Jones is an array of talented supporting cast members. Most impressive is Megan Masako Haley as Emily, Priestly’s first assistant. Emily’s on-trend outfits look like she has jumped right out of the magazine’s pages. Emily is not coy about her initial dislike for Andy, whom she views like a food stain on a designer satin blouse.
About the same time, Priestly begins to overwhelm Andy with an endless “to-do” list that needs to be done immediately. Soon, Andy becomes sympathetic with all that Emily has had to put up with over the years. On the red-carpeted steps of a fashionable gala, Priestly tells Andy that she, not Emily, will accompany her to Paris. Andy almost refuses, imagining how Emily will take the bad news. However, there’s no use in trying to argue with Priestly.
One rare departure from the film is the musical’s reluctance to spend time on Andy’s relationship with her longtime boyfriend, Nate. Michael Tacconi plays Nate with a good deal of heart. His song, “I like the Old You,” is a reference to Andy’s changing priorities as the job takes hold of her. Those same thoughts are echoed by two members of Andy’s old “gang,” played by actors Tiffany Mann and Christina Cole. The audience sees them starting to pull away. It’s not until the shows final scene that Andy realizes she must forge her own path in life.
A Solid Foundation
The sets, lighting, projections, costumes and cast are all strong points for The Devil Wears Prada, a show with a well-established fan base. Fashion-minded ticket buyers are going to love this musical, as will Broadway’s perennial tourist trade. The show definitely needs some changes, but its foundation is solid.
What really needs work is the show’s score by Elton John, with lyrics by Shaina Taub. John needs to deliver more of the magic seen in Billy Elliot, Aida and The Lion King. Surprisingly, many of Prada’s songs neither move the plot along nor show insights into the show’s characters. One number, named for the show’s title, has eerie undercurrents of another John song that The Lion King’s villain sings to his hyena troops, “Be Prepared.” None of the songs are outright duds, but they’re not memorable, either.
Director Anna D. Shapiro keeps things moving at a brisk pace, to the point where time seems to fly by. There’s nothing new here in terms of reinventing the musical form, but that probably won’t matter to those seeking a dose of glitz and glamour. The large audience at the Chicago performance seen by this reviewer seemed delighted at what they saw onstage. A few nips and tucks (and new songs) could do much to stitch together the loose ends and turn The Devil Wears Prada into a satisfying addition to the Broadway theater scene.
The Devil Wears Prada plays through August 21 at the James M. Nederlander Theatre in Chicago. Tickets range from $33-120. Tickets are on sale at www.BroadwayInChicago.com. Masks are not required but strongly encouraged indoor the theater.