Last November, shortly after The Prom opened at New York’s Longacre Theatre, The Hollywood Reporter’s chief theater critic David Rooney singled out a tidbit about the show that makes it stand out in the often-challenging theater landscape. “Any musical that makes it to Broadway these days without a familiar movie source or a popular jukebox score is an achievement,” Rooney noted. “So this original story is a rainbow unicorn that wins points right there.”
That rainbow unicorn has scored another coup, this time courtesy of Ryan Murphy, who plans to give the piece a fairy tale Hollywood ending: He’s going to make The Prom into a movie with Netflix.
Murphy announced the news Tuesday evening when he appeared onstage at the Longacre as host of a special charity performance benefiting causes close to his heart: the Hetrick-Martin Institute, GLAAD and the Trevor Project. It was a starry night at the theater, too, with Sarah Jessica Parker, Glenn Close, Jane Krakowski, Ben Platt, Gus Kenworthy, Sandra Bernhard, Laura Dreyfuss, Janet Mock, Matthew Morrison, Bernadette Peters, Billy Porter, Andrew Rannells, MJ Rodriguez, Christian Siriano and Trevor CEO Amit Paley, among many others, all in the audience with Murphy.
The Prom dances around the relationship between an Indiana teenager (Caitlin Kinnunen) who wants to bring her girlfriend (Isabelle McCalla) to her school’s big dance. Instead, they’re banned from attending, only to see a cast of Broadway eccentrics band together to help fight the injustice. The Prom is based on an original concept by Jack Viertel with a book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin, music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Beguelin. Casey Nicholaw directed and choreographed the show. Its producers Bill Damaschke, Dori Berinstein and Jack Lane were all there Tuesday night, along with Nicholaw, Sklar, Martin and Beguelin.
A longtime LGBTQ+ supporter — and prolific creator of inclusive projects like Pose, The Normal Heart, Glee and many more — Murphy was so taken by the production that he not only decided to host the event but to adapt the show as the first movie project announced under his groundbreaking Netflix deal. He broke the news in the final seconds of a nearly seven-minute introduction, during which he stood next to Nicholaw. Murphy first thanked all the big stars in the crowd, many of whom are his close friends and collaborators.
The audience went wild as he announced the boldfaced names in attendance. “I know, it’s exciting,” Murphy said before getting serious. “I’m really tired of hearing about bad news and [Donald] Trump. I want to see entertainment that is optimistic and uplifting.” That desire led him to the Longacre in December and after he saw The Prom, which he admittedly knew nothing about before taking his seat, “I was absolutely blown away by Casey’s work and the incredible cast,” he said. “I cried at the end from pure joy, which has not happened to me since Patti LuPone was the flower girl at my wedding.”
What he loved most, Murphy continued, is that the show casts two lesbians as heroines in a storyline that delivered a profound takeaway: “LGBTQ rights are human rights.”
“I wish this show was around when I was a kid,” said Murphy, who, like the central character, grew up in Indiana and was banned from bringing his own squeeze to the senior prom. “I protested by wearing six-inch yellow platform boots.”
Because the show meant so much to him, Murphy partnered with several organizations to fill the audience with LGBTQ youth, many of whom had never experienced live theater. He even bought out half the house himself as a way to show them this: “You are not alone. My backyard was a cornfield, and I’m from a very religious family. All of us came out tonight to celebrate The Prom, but to celebrate you kids and tell you that we love you, we see you and you have support.”
Murphy will have considerable support for the film project. He confirmed onstage that he’s bringing the creative team — producers Damaschke and Berinstein, Nicholaw, Martin, Sklar and Beguelin — with him for the film adaptation. With it, his hands — and slate — are quite full. He is also shepherding the series The Politician starring Ben Platt (set to debut Sept. 27); Ratched, starring Sarah Paulson; and Hollywood. He also has experience on the Great White Way, having produced the recent run of Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band, starring Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Charlie Carver, Robin De Jesús, Brian Hutchison, Michael Benjamin Washington and Tuc Watkins.
Following Murphy’s hosting duties, he and Nicholaw handed the spotlight over to the cast for the night’s performance. In addition to Kinnunen and McCalla, The Prom stars Brooks Ashmanskas, Beth Leavel, Christopher Sieber, Michael Potts, Angie Schworer, Courtenay Collins, Josh Lamon, Mary Antonini, Courtney Balan, Jerusha Cavazos, Gabi Campo, Cara Cooper, Shelby Finnie, Josh Franklin, Sheldon Henry, Fernell Hogan, Joomin Hwang, David Josefsberg, Becca Lee, Wayne “Juice” Mackins, Kate Marilley, Vasthy Mompoint, Anthony Norman, Drew Redington, Jack Sippel, Teddy Toye, Kalyn West and Brittany Zeinstra round out the cast.
It’s unclear if any of the ensemble will also get their chance to appear onscreen. But what is known is that Murphy and his new collaborators are going to hustle to get it done. He announced that the Netflix adaptation is going to be a “huge Netflix movie event” and that they are gearing up for a September 2020 debut. That date, which falls right before the next presidential election, is no coincidence.
In closing, Murphy said: “We want to change hearts, minds and votes.”
THE PROM is one of the most uplifting, heartfelt and special musicals I have ever seen on Broadway. It’s truly an original that celebrates the underdog and says in a loving spectacular way that LGBTQ rights are human rights. I feel a special connection to it because it’s set in Indiana, and that’s where I grew up, too. I’m thrilled to announce I’m turning it into a MOVIE EVENT for Netflix, and I’m bringing producers @billdamaschke and @dori.berinstein and the amazing creative team with me — Tony Award winner Casey Nicholaw, Tony Award winner Bob Martin, Tony award nominee @sklarbar73 and Tony Award nominee @Chadbeg. See it first at the Longacre Theatre. It has a musical score that will leave you singing for days, a hilarious and moving book and some of the most showstopping direction, choreography and performances I’ve ever seen on Broadway. @theprommusical
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