Critics have advised that The Devil Wears Prada, the Musical, go back to the sketchbook before its projected Broadway premiere in 2023. Running through August 21 in its world premiere at Chicago's James M. Nederlander Theatre, the take on the world of high fashion is ambitious but poorly received.
The musical is based on Lauren Weisberger's 2003 novel about working at a major fashion magazine, written after she worked for Vogue magazine's infamously demanding chief editor Anna Wintour. Additionally, the production draws inspiration from the 2006 movie adaptation, which featured Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly, editor-in-chief of Runway magazine, and Anne Hathaway as Andy Sachs, a new hire who considers fashion frivolous and sees the job as a means to support herself until she can begin to write about social issues.
In addition to having a score by Elton John, Kevin McCollum, who produced Rent and last Broadway season's hit musical, Six, is behind the show. Although it struggled hard to reach its opening, following over 20 cases of COVID during rehearsals and previews, critics describe the musical as serviceable but lacking a unique edge to make it fun. It remains to be seen if The Devil Wears Prada, the Musical will undergo extensive changes ahead of its planned debut on the Great White Way. Read on to find out what the reviews are saying.
It Has Promise With the Proper Tailoring
Anne Spiselman, a theater critic for Hyde Park Herald, says the nowhere "near runway-ready" musical is "like a dress poorly pieced together from a pattern and sewn by unsteady hands, it needs to be ripped apart and remade to showcase its assets and minimize the shortcomings."
She writes in her review that while several of the show's best lines and plotlines are lifted from the original sources, the changes it does make generally don't improve the story."Attempts to update the material from the early 2000s to the present range from the superficial, such as adding social media references, to the substantial, including the multicultural gender-fluid casting of a mostly BIPOC ensemble with several performers in drag," Spiselman says. "Yet the sensibility remains firmly fixed earlier in this century, as do several anachronistic allusions."
She adds that it is easy to forget Andy is working for a fashion magazine since nothing about the magazine's content, deadlines, or layouts is discussed. This factor diminishes the potential that the "largely wasted" Beth Leavel has as Miranda Priestly "to wield her authority and threatens to make her a supporting character rather than the force of nature Andy describes in Act Two."
Spiselman considers the staging to be "over the place. There are moments of brilliance like the initial sound of stiletto heels clicking on a hard floor followed by a chorus line of lower legs in ruby slippers. Then there are real duds, such as the first-act closer featuring the title song and dancers at the Met ball forgettably choreographed by James Alsop in front of a red curtain." She also takes issue with the show's sound, "that's sometimes so muddy the lyrics are unintelligible if you don't know them in advance," especially in the group numbers.
"If you're going to turn a hit movie into a stage musical, it should have something new or relevant or interesting to say and not just be a way to sell tickets," Spiselman summarizes. "I don't think The Devil Wears Prada, the Musical does that in its present form, but the highlights suggest it has promise with the proper tailoring."prevnext
It Could Use Some Alterations
Alexis Soloski from The New York Times says The Devil Wears Prada is "a movie-to-musical that wants to have its cake and eat it, too, and still fit into a sample size." He continues,"Though the show takes place at a fashion magazine, its creative team doesn't seem to have agreed on a style."
"Is this a sincere story of a young woman's education — sentimental, professional, sartorial — or a Fashion Week party? An inquiry into toxic workplace culture or an excuse to put an Eiffel Tower (technically, two Eiffel Towers) onstage? This is a show that has tried on everything in its closet. Nothing fits."
Soloski finds the songs pleasant enough but somewhat "last-season." And he criticizes the ambivalent show for not taking a point of view and having "deeply corny" jokes. He wonders if "a score that acknowledged the last 40 years of popular music" would have made a difference. "And though magazines like Vogue have finally admitted a lack of diversity, the musical never acknowledges that everyone mistreated by Miranda, who is white, is a person of color."
In addition, Soloski also points out that "Andy, a woman with no professional bylines, seems to feel that fashion is somehow beneath her" and never recognizes it as something of substance. Despite the presence of so many women on the creative team, fashion "remains frivolous, unserious, girl stuff," which gives the musical an antifeminist air.
He concludes, "The musical's first act closes with its title song, a suggestion that the fashion world is a kind of inferno. 'Hell is a runway,' the chorus sings (with a sound mix so muddy that I had to look up the lyrics later), 'where the devil wears Prada.' But nothing in the show confirms this. The worst anguish Andy suffers? Her boss calls too often. The Devil Wears Prada isn't as sumptuous as it should be or as bitingly incisive. If it wants a life beyond Chicago, it could use some alterations."prevnext
New York Post writer Johnny Oleksinski definitively labels "the bargain-bin" musical adaptation "the worst screen-to-stage move in recent memory." He writes,"Every song is lousy, and there is nothing here worth fixing."
"No convincing artistic effort has been made to reinterpret the film and book into something new that makes logical and compelling sense onstage." With about every plot point identical to the 2006 film, Oleksinski says The Devil Wears Prada "should have been reworked completely," calling the show "mopey and slow; frumpy and boring; laughless and sterile."
He slams composers John and Taub, book writer Kate Wetherhead and director Anna D. Shapiro for squandering the "beloved source material, even while borrowing heavily from it." Oleksinski derides them for taking "the plot's early aughts sensibilities" and "cautiously and stupidly" updating it with 2022 sensibilities.
The critic is also unhappy with Miranda turning into "a supporting role," calling Beth Leavel "miscast" as the fashion editor, regarding her portrayal of Miranda "as a mean middle-manager rather than a grand cultural icon." He notes, "Andy and Miranda, mystifyingly, never even sing a duet, which is what we wait for all night."
Oleksinski adds that the costumes are "let-downs" and "What should've been a haute couture musical is hopelessly ready-to-wear," and continues to skewer the show, suggesting it "has overtaken the misguided vampire debacle Lestat as the worst stage music of Elton John's career."
Additionally, he explains that while The Devil Wears Prada "was never a deep movie," Meryl Streep's performance elevated the source material. "What the stage show needed to do was build an intoxicating world of New York fashion, let us inhabit that exclusive club and give us a chic good time. Instead, we got an ugly bore."prevnext
A Cheap Flea Market Bag with a Designer Label Glue-Gunned to the Lining
Catey Sullivan, of the Chicago Sun-Times, writes, "Devil Wears Prada, the Musical runs the gamut from mildly diverting to mostly egregiously disappointing, the latter being its defining ethos," and calls the show "more JCPenney clearance catalog than couture."
Sullivan considers the lackluster fashion sense of the musical a "major problem" and says, "you'll see more creative silhouettes on any given season of RuPaul's Drag Race. Costume designer Arianne Phillips often tries to make sparkle or oversized graphic prints atone for unimpressive design, but much more than a bit of superficial flash is needed. Every look...looks under-budgeted and poorly finished."
In addition, she finds it more troublesome that the musical "feels written by committee, some tackling Gen Z issues" that never "coalesce into a compelling story. None is addressed with any particular intensity or ingenuity."
Sullivan still leaves some scorn for The Devil Wears Prada's music, noting Elton John's score is "mostly as flat as a newly ironed hem." She contends that besides "a sung/spoken soliloquy-like number from Miranda based on the movie's iconic speech that uses a cerulean blue belt," the "music doesn't further the story or deepen the characters," and "worse, it doesn't provide a single, memorable star-turn for the leads."
The writer maintains that "The Devil Wears Prada attempts to emulate the movie's lightly comic, somewhat acerbic exploration of an industry," but "succeeds only in creating a faint copy of a copy."prevnext
Let Miranda be Miranda
The Washington Post critic Peter Marks also complains that Miranda has been toned down "to the advantage of no one." He suggests that the musical adaptation "radiates none of the style or the outrageous entitlement that made the movie such a guilty pleasure."
Marks notes that the creative team has dialed down the bullying of Andy Sachs in the show, "perhaps to make Miranda more palatable for a musical." He remarks, "While the humanitarian impulse is admirable, the effect on the story is deadly." The result is a production Marks calls "rather garden-variety," "with the sense that HR has force-fed Miranda a PowerPoint on workplace personality adjustment."
The writer also argues that Elton John's "workmanlike" pop score is "by-the-numbers" and "lacks the insouciant spirit of his best pieces." Marks opines that The Devil Wears Prada can't and shouldn't recapture the movie's best moments, and "the ones it does reprise lack the acidity of dishy social satire. The joy of the skewering has been lost." He adds that "even more disappointingly, the fashion sense...feels off," with costumes that "appear to be not so much on trend as on a budget."prevnext
Get Mean Like Miranda Priestly
Variety's review by Steven Oxman calls the musical "an overly respectful and frankly miscalculated approach" to the source material "that never quite decides between authentic glamour or a more theatricalized kind, resting right now in a merely semi-satisfying middle."
Oxman praises leads Taylor Iman Jones (Andy Sachs) and Beth Leavel (Miranda Priestly) for their performances, as well as the show's book, choreography, stage design, and score. However, he goes on to lament that "the show just never lets loose," observing that its "key miscalibration" is pulling the focus away from the show's main appeal, Miranda's over-the-top rudeness, onto the tale of a young woman pursuing her dreams.
Oxman points out that The Devil Wears Prada's "tameness" is most evident in Miranda's portrayal, "imprisoned by muted pantsuits, a sensible hairdo, and multiple patter songs...that come off as banal recitatives about appointments that need scheduling."
According to the author, a lot must be done to replace the "sincere and fairly dull songs" that speak of losing friends, struggling to make ends meet, or growing up gay in the Midwest, with "songs that express the naked ambition, social irresponsibility and joyful artifice of the fashion industry."prev