‘Devil Wears Prada the Musical’ review: A fashion and scenic faux pas
Now in its world premiere ahead of a slated Broadway opening in 2023, “The Devil Wears Prada, The Musical” runs the gamut from mildly confusing to mostly hugely disappointing, the latter being its defining philosophy. .
Until August 21 at the Nederlander Theatre, Elton John’s interpretation of the world of high fashion has his work cut out for him. For now, this behind-the-scenes account of the world’s biggest fashion magazine is more JC Penney’s clearance catalog than haute couture.
“The Devil Wears Prada, the Musical” (book by Kate Wetherhead, lyrics by Shaina Taub) is rooted in Lauren Weisberger’s 2003 novel-a-clef about working at a major fashion magazine, written after she had served as Vogue’s assistant to the magazine’s infamous editor, Anna Wintour.
“The devil wears Prada, the musical”
The novel’s scenes of opulence and overwork gave rise to the 2006 film version starring Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly, editor of Runway magazine, and Anne Hathaway as Andy Sachs, a new recruit who believes fashion is frivolous and sees Runway as a way to pay the rent until she can change the world by writing about social justice issues.
A major problem with director Anna D. Shapiro’s staging of the musical “Prada,” starring Tony Award winner Beth Leavel as Miranda and Taylor Iman Jones as Andy, is its disappointing fashion sense. Frankly, you’ll see more creative silhouettes on any season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Costume designer Arianne Phillips often tries to do glitzy or oversized graphic prints for an unimpressive design, but it takes a lot more than a bit of superficial flash. Every look — from an ill-fitting red dress Miranda wears to the office to bulbous, armless, Michelin-man-worthy designs claiming to be cutting-edge Parisian couture — feels underbudgeted and poorly finished.
We also never get a feel for Runway magazine. We are told – repeatedly, in a respectful tone – of the legends and icons who have walked the halls of the magazine. But there’s no sense of detail or story – not so much as fashion illustration – in the set design and media design of Christine Jones or Brett Banakis. The desktop aesthetic is basic and generic, with modes resembling arts and crafts projects with little actual art.
More awkwardly, “The Devil Wears Prada, The Musical” feels committee-written, with some tackling Gen Z issues (there’s a drinking song about “jobs that pay the rent” and a meaningless jingle about how to live in your twenties), some dealing with fashion, some tackling the plight of pioneering women in the workplace. None of these elements blend into a gripping story. None are approached with any particular intensity or ingenuity.
Then there is the music.
One of the best woeful song offerings is a sung/spoken number by Miranda based on the film’s iconic speech that uses a cerulean blue belt to explain the fashion industry‘s global social and economic reach. In Miranda’s succinct explanation of fashion’s inescapable influence across the globe, Leavel delivers the shadow of an ice age, freezing Andy’s mockery into silence. Even though much of it is spoken rather than sung, it’s still the highlight of a score that’s otherwise mostly as flat as a newly ironed hem.
The tune of the title is a puzzle. Her heart-pounding insistence that Priestly is actually a devil in designer duds undoes all the work Leavel has done to show Miranda as anything other than a one-dimensional narcissistic elitist. Elton John wrote brilliant scores for “Billy Elliot” and “Aida”. Here, his music does not deepen the story or deepen the characters. Worse still, it doesn’t provide a single memorable star turn for the tracks.
Jones and Leavel’s adequate performances are bolstered by a cast of supporting characters from the film and the book. Runway’s art director Nigel (Javier Munoz) is the quintessential sassy best friend, down to a withering aversion to synthetics and a predictable number of growing up gay in a homophobic small town. Miranda’s first assistant, Emily (Megan Masako Haley), is full of ambition. Andy’s friends and roommates mostly serve to bring up a brief plot point about housing insecurity, an issue that’s resolved almost as soon as it’s talked about.
Under Shapiro’s direction, “The Devil Wears Prada, The Musical” attempts to emulate the lightly comedic and somewhat acerbic exploration of an industry that is glamorous and wealthy on the outside, something a lot more messy inside. It only succeeds in creating a pale copy of a copy.
In its current state, “The Devil Wears Prada, The Musical” is a mediocre knockoff, a cheap flea market bag with a designer label stuck to the lining. Back to the sketchbook!