Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
There’s nothing like an upbeat musical to lift the spirits. For the participating players in the show, they too aren’t immune to those charms. Just ask Academy Award winning actresses Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman. They both had their moods boosted performing in director/ producer Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of THE PROM.
Streep had not actually seen the live show when she initially gotten the call from Murphy to play Dee Dee Allen, an aging diva on the Broadway circuit. Judging by the audience’s reaction to show, when she finally was able to catch it, she was surprised to learn it was set to close. At the film’s recent virtual press conference, she said,
“I couldn’t believe it! It was absolutely packed. I’ve honestly never heard a reaction like that in a theater. People were standing on their seats, screaming and crying and laughing.”
At first she was confused that she was given the most dancing out of the cast to do, considering her character didn’t in the Broadway show.
“I’m the oldest person in the cast and I have the most dancing [to do], which didn’t make sense to me. When I saw the Broadway show, I noticed that the leading lady didn’t do a lot of dancing. I was very encouraged to see that.”
It was only after accepting the role and flying out to Los Angeles for the rehearsals did the affable actress become aware that she’d be required to strap on her dancing shoes.
“Then all hell broke loose when they laid out to me what it was. It was a lot of dancing. I got in shape. It’s a lot of stamina. It was hard work, but really, really fun.”
Murphy had built in a lot of rehearsal time into the production’s schedule before shooting so that his cast could bond. This musical bootcamp of sorts turned out to be a smart move on his part.
“We took over a very large space at Paramount Pictures and trained as much as we could. I think when you’re making a musical, it’s where the cast becomes like a Broadway troupe. Everybody cheered each other on. There were injuries and ice and it became a very great bonding experience. Everybody was free to try things.”
Nicole Kidman, who plays washed up Broadway chorus girl Angie Dickinson, was pleased to have the rehearsal time to really nail the complex choreography.
“We had 6 weeks of rehearsal before. These days, the rehearsal period just gets shoved aside. But we came in and we diligently rehearsed.”
Maybe it was over-confidence on her part, but she had also grossly misjudged how much time she thought it would take to learn the moves for her character’s Fosse-inspired solo number, “Zazz.”
“I came in thinking, ‘Oh yeah. I can do this.’ It was terrifying because the Fosse dancing is so specific. I had this amazing group of dancers who just trained me and trained me with the patience of saints. Actually, it was really fun.”
The UNDOING star was impressed by how the entire ensemble crushed their dance numbers.
“I remember seeing Meryl do her first number on the first week and going, ‘Oh my God! This is so, so good.’ I looked at her and went, ‘You can do that too?!’”
Streep took comfort in the film’s sense of community.
“When we were in the rehearsals, we’d be struggling with these numbers and then the young people would get up and lift the roof with their exuberance and joy and vitality.”
This is also the ingredient she values most about making musicals.
“It’s the breakout aspect of musicals: the lid comes off the pressure of your life. It’s irresistible in movie musicals when people start to dance.”
THE PROM begins streaming on Netflix on December 11.