CHICAGO — “You have no style or fashion sense,” fictional magazine editor Miranda Priestly viciously observes in “The Devil Wears Prada.”
She’s dressing up her would-be new assistant, Andy, but that same harsh criticism should be thrown at the new musical adaptation of Lauren Weisberger’s film and novel which opened Sunday night in Chicago.
Duration 2h30 with an intermission. At the James L. Nederlander Theater in Chicago.
Call the fashion police. The alarmingly unamusingly slow-paced show with a score by Elton John and Shaina Taub is a misfire of misfires, and the worst screen-to-stage move in recent memory.
Considering the mind-numbing cinematic properties that have been cynically schlepped on Broadway in recent seasons, this is a Guinness-worthy achievement.
Every song sucks, and there’s nothing here worth fixing.
No convincing artistic effort has been made to reinterpret the film and the book into something new that makes logical and convincing sense on stage. Almost every plot point is identical to the 2006 film which was slick, sexy and satisfying and earned Meryl Streep a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar nomination.
But “Prada” should have been completely reworked. When the cinematic story is set to lifeless music, it becomes dull and slow; clumsy and boring; without laughter and sterile. The “Devil” wears out.
It’s still about Andy (Taylor Iman Jones, capable and without texture), an aspiring New York journalist who unwittingly becomes the second assistant of Runway magazine, a replacement for Vogue, directed by Miranda Priestly (Beth Leavel) — a cruel but brilliant editor a la Anna Wintour who rules the fashion industry with icy stares and put-downs.
Starting out as a Kmart mess, Andy learns to navigate the treacherous waters of Runway while alienating his friends and annoying Brooklyn boyfriend and earning the ire of First Assistant Emily (Megan Masako Haley).
Composers John and Taub, writer Kate Wetherhead, and director Anna D. Shapiro have squandered beloved sources, even borrowing heavily from them.
Early plot sensibilities were cautiously and stupidly updated to the mores of 2022. Andy is now a progressive Gen Z activist and Miranda is, I dunno, Nancy Reagan?
When Andy says she thought she was going for a job interview on a Vox-like website called City Dweller, Miranda calls the post “a liberal echo chamber.” Later, the fearsome editor mockingly sings, “Who’s got time for purses when democracy’s on the line?!”
What is the heel? No one in the fashion world would ever say that, especially now, and it’s a completely wrong way to define the mystery character.
Miranda is a major obstacle for the musical due to how little she shares. Musicals, of course, rely on oversharing. That’s a ballad. To compensate early on, Leavel sings awkward songs as if she were the very model of a modern major publisher. His later big number in Act 2 during a lunch in Paris is a vocally impressive, but forgettable and oddly placed piece “Cruella de Vil”. Thus, Miranda was turned into a supporting role.
Leavel, a fun vocal powerhouse in “The Prom” and “Drowsy Chaperone,” was cast poorly here. In tandem with the writers, she makes Miranda appear as an intermediate average rather than a great cultural icon.
Andy and Miranda, mystifyingly, never even sing a duet, which is what we’ve been waiting all night for. Instead, the climax is a dull, soft scene.
There are a lot of womp-womp choices like that. For example, too much stage time is given to Andy’s depressed roommates (Christiana Cole and Tiffany Mann) and his handsome boss (Michael Tacconi), who sing a dirge about losing their friend at her job.
Another tearful number is sung by Nigel, Runway’s editorial director, in Paris about growing up gay in Kalamazoo. “I used to hide in closets, but now I manage them,” he sings. You have Prada laughing at me.
Either way, actor Javier Munoz, who plays Nigel, is the best part of the show. His material is gritty, old-school “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” style jokes, but he has tremendous energy.
Some will see “Prada” for John, who in addition to giving us “Tiny Dancer” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, wrote the great Broadway musicals “The Lion King” and “Billy Elliot” (and also bad comedies musical “Aida” and “Lestat”).
But “Devil” overtook the vampiric “Lestat” debacle as the worst incidental music of John’s career. None of these songs will appear on the set list of his inevitable final, final, final farewell tour.
That’s a shame. “Prada” was never a deep film. Streep was sensational and elevated what she received. What the show had to do was build an intoxicating world of New York fashion, let us inhabit this exclusive club and have a classy good time.
Instead, we got a nasty bore.
Unfortunately, Arianne Phillips’ clothes are underwhelming – even in Andy’s costume number “Who’s She?” They’re nowhere near as fabulous as Bob Mackie’s spectacular looks in “The Cher Show” or Amneris’ outfits in John’s “Aida”‘s “My Strongest Suit.”
What should have been a high fashion musical is hopelessly ready-to-wear.