The Devil Wears Prada Needs More Workshop Time – Chicago Magazine
Last week, the producers of The devil wears Prada scored some publicity thanks to a visit from the show’s composer. “Elton John attends a performance in Chicago!” reading a press release after John saw a preview of the new musical on Wednesday night; after the curtain call, we were told, “he went backstage to share a special moment with the cast.”
Perhaps it was a good time, that John’s visit to Chicago for Friday night’s Soldier Field concert – apparently his last appearance here, as he wraps up his long farewell tour this fall – coincides with his side project.
But was it really something to celebrate PradaThe score writer, the acclaimed talent behind this new Broadway-bound musical, saw the show for the first time from the audience? Was it such a feel-good moment that, in a process as necessarily collaborative and iterative as the creation of a theatrical production, the composer apparently met the actors for the first time weeks after the performance began?
This knowledge had remained in the back of my mind as Prada open to the press on Sunday evening. Based on the 2003 novel by Lauren Weisberger and the 2006 film adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, Prada follows an ambitious young writer as she takes a job as an assistant to the legendary, demanding editor of a glossy fashion magazine.
Weisberger wrote his book after working for vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour; Pradathe devil, Miranda Priestly, is the big boss of Track magazine, where fashion-blind Andy Sachs improbably lands the job that “a million girls would kill for.” When told that a year meeting Miranda’s high expectations will open many doors in the New York edition, Andy decides to resist – and soon finds himself warming to the glamorous life, while his friends begin to feel left behind.
But while Kate Wetherhead’s screenplay picks up familiar beats from Weisberger’s book and, in particular, the much-loved film – some of the biggest acclaim on opening night were for lines borrowed from Aline Brosh McKenna’s screenplay – so far, something that is vital for fashion, magazines and theater is missing: an editorial eye.
Andy’s main mode here is ambivalence, from start to finish, and while rising star Taylor Iman Jones definitely shines, hesitation is a difficult note to play. Miranda, portrayed onscreen by Streep as an extremely detached ice queen, is played here by Beth Leavel as less imperiously unapproachable and more mildly annoyed. Miranda must be seriously intimidating, but Leavel, a beloved Broadway trouper, might just be too naturally warm to give us chills.
Wetherhead is making some decided upgrades to some secondary characters. Andy’s boyfriend Nate, played by Adrien Grenier in the film as a needy, resentful brat, receives better motivations and comes across as much more empathetic than the one played here by Michael Tacconi. And the charming Javier Muñoz as creative director Nigel (Stanley Tucci’s role in the film) gets both a slightly beefed-up backstory and better songs than Andy or Miranda.
But then, none of John’s scores here are really catchy at this point; the composer does not seem to have given much thought to character motifs or coherent themes. Shaina Taub’s lyrics have flashes of wit, but repeat frequently to fill out John’s melodies. With the reminder last week that John wasn’t in the room, it’s hard not to think of the score as it was called.
And there is a missed opportunity that jumps out at you. Thanks to the casting of Jones, Muñoz, and Megan Masako Haley (underused as Andy’s rival assistant), the main targets of Miranda’s abuse have all become characters of color. Given the consistently bad way non-white workers have been treated in the fashion industry and in real-life Condé Nast, you’d think something would be done about race, but the show isn’t going there.
The devil wears Prada is not a finished look; the current run at the James M. Nederlander Theater is what used to be called an “out of town tryout,” where the creative team can take the show to the public and see what works and what needs fixing. Director Anna D. Shapiro, the former artistic director of Steppenwolf, can do this work on her home turf. Even though many major critics have descended on Chicago to examine the work in progress, there is still time to reshape this material so that it is ready for the track.
The devil wears Prada continues through August 21 at the James M. Nederlander Theater. For more information on tickets, go to broadwayinchicago.com.