The Devil Wears Prada Review: An Adaptation in Need of Adjustment

CHICAGO — A movie-to-musical that wants its cake and eats it and still fits into a pattern size, The Devil Wears Prada opened Sunday here at the James M. Nederlander Theater. With music by rock god Elton John and lyrics by Off-Broadway sweetheart Shaina Taub (“Suffs”), it seemed poised to set a trend or two.

Despite the show taking place in a fashion magazine, the creative team doesn’t seem to have settled on a style. Is this a candid story about a young woman’s education – sentimental, professional, fashionable – or a fashion week party? An examination of toxic work culture or an excuse to put an Eiffel Tower (technically two Eiffel Towers) on stage? This is one show that has tried on everything in her closet. Nothing fits.

Adapted from the 2006 film, which in turn is adapted from Lauren Weisberger’s 2003 roman à clef of her year at Condé Nast, it follows Andy Sachs (Taylor Iman Jones), a recent journalism grad. Andy has big dreams. The Big Apple quickly crushes them in “I Mean Business,” the show’s efficient opener. After six months of rejections, she somehow lands a coveted job at Runway — a fictional representation of Vogue — as second assistant to imperious editor Miranda Priestly (Beth Leavel).

Andy doesn’t care about fashion. She’s got the cable knit tights to prove it. But she needs a job to pay the rent. (Yes, the musical assumes that entry-level media exposure guarantees financial security. How expensive.) So she does what she perceives to be the first of many Faustian bargains – to put her dreams on hold and stick it out for a year .

“My voice can wait,” she tells Miranda. I mean, Joan Didion started at Vogue. Why, surely.

The problem is, Andy isn’t very good at her job. Certainly she lacks the insane perfectionism and madcap wardrobe of toxic first assistant Emily Charlton (Megan Masako Haley, wasted until Act II). She seeks help from the magazine’s creative director, Nigel Owens (Javier Muñoz), who gives her the makeover in “Dress Your Way Up,” a power ballad inspired by the Met’s costume collection and coffee-cup platitudes. that she needs so badly that you should dress for the job you want.

But Andy remains ambivalent about her work. And are a bright pink onesie and thigh-high boots really everyone’s idea of ​​office attire? (The costumes, which range from the extravagant – the chorus – to the unconvincing and oddly wrinkled – the leading actors – are by Arianne Phillips.) The musical, too, is ambivalent. The film, with its sleeker wardrobe and more substantial visual delights, seemed to reluctantly admire the fashion industry as a commerce, as an art. Directed by Anna D. Shapiro, a serious artist whom I wouldn’t have associated with either glitz or whimsy, the show can’t make up its mind.

The songs unfold pleasantly enough, with touches of glamor and a touch of wit, but they tend to feel like last season. James Alsop’s choreography borrows Broadway slang with a touch of ballroom. Of course there is voguing. Although Kate Wetherhead’s book has some updates — there’s a reference to collagen powder — it doesn’t take a stand. And in a show with an avowed aversion to strength, the jokes are deeply hackneyed.

“What should I do?” Andy whines as Miranda approaches.

“Find a better scrub to start with,” says Nigel.

I’ve sometimes wondered what an author who takes bigger, more pointed comic turns—Bess Wohl, say, Jocelyn Bioh, Halley Feiffer—could have done with this material. Would a score recognizing the past 40 years of pop music have made a difference? This version takes Jones, a charismatic actress with a smooth, flexible voice, and gives her little to do but stress and tremble. (She shinesbtw, no scrub needed.) And though magazines like Vogue have finally admitted a lack of diversity, the musical never acknowledges that anyone abused by Miranda, who is white, is a person of color.

The Devil Wears Prada wants to convey a vision of luxury and style – which explains the makeover scene, the gala scene, the Paris Fashion Week scene. Christine Jones and Brett Banakis, the set and media designers, have a lot of fun with Paris. But Andy, a woman with no professional background, seems to feel that fashion is somehow beneath her dignity. Even when she does come to appreciate couture on a personal level (“Who is she?”), she never acknowledges it as substantive and turns down a chance to write about it. It remains frivolous, dubious girl stuff, which gives the musical a touch of anti-feminism despite the presence of so many women in the creative team.

None of the female characters on the show support each other until almost the finale. Andy’s two roommates (Christiana Cole and Tiffany Mann) are sketched so thinly that I never got their names. You still take the time to judge them. As it stands, it’s not that great.

Which, of course, brings us to the Miranda of everything. In the film, Meryl Streep played Miranda, with straight silver hair and a voice like liquid nitrogen – an ice queen who sinks the Titanic. But Leavel is an actress of humor and warmth, and a gift for archaic self-parody, evident in The Drowsy Chaperone and The Prom. Miranda should make her subordinates tremble in their Louboutin boots. They’re all pretty big here.

Did Wetherhead’s book melt Miranda, or is Leavel lacking the chill it needs? Both, really. The musical gives her a late confessional: “Stay On Top.” Because if you have a voice like Leavel’s, you should of course present it. But Miranda is not built for self-reflection. And “Stay On Top” doesn’t offer much anyway.

Oddly enough, the character the musical best represents isn’t the insecure Andy or the mean Miranda, but the cucumber-cool Nigel. Alongside Dress Your Way Up, the musical’s best number, he also delivers Act Two’s “Seen,” a poignant song about how fashion magazines supported him as a gay youth. Muñoz, a consummate performer, elevates both.

The first act of the musical ends with its theme song, which suggests that the fashion world is an inferno of sorts. “Hell is a runway,” sings the chorus (with a sound mix so muddy I had to look up the lyrics later), “where the devil wears Prada.” But nothing on the show confirms this. The worst agony Andy suffers? Your boss calls too often. “The Devil Wears Prada” isn’t as lush as it should be, or as scathingly incisive. If it wants a life beyond Chicago, it could use some changes.

The devil Wears Prada
Until August 21 at the James M. Nederlander Theater, Chicago; Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes.

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