Pandemic-delayed 'Devil Wears Prada' opens in Chicago, and its creatives couldn't be happier

It was the first table read for “The Devil Wears Prada,” the Broadway-bound musical premiering at Chicago's James M. Nederlander Theatre, and co-star Taylor Iman Jones was a bit teary. Nearly 2½ years after she was cast in the Elton John-Shaina Taub tuner based on the hit 2006 film, the pandemic-delayed production was finally a reality. The cast and creative team took turns introducing themselves, but when it came time for her to speak, she broke down.

“I couldn't even make it through my name,” said Jones, who plays aspiring journalist Andy Sachs. She wasn't the only one.

Taylor Iman Jones plays aspiring writer Andy Sachs in the Broadway-bound musical "The Devil Wears Prada," running through Aug. 21 at the James M. Nederlander Theatre. Courtesy of Jenny Anderson

“A lot of us have been waiting for this through the pandemic ... to be here now is mind-blowing,” she said. “There have been many, many, many happy tears from a lot of us.”

Not all cast members cried. One quipped. Tony Award-winner Beth Leavel, who plays tyrannical magazine editor Miranda, recalls being elated and emotional at the same time during that table read. Raising her hand, Leavel referenced the pandemic-related delay with a wisecrack.

Tony Award-winner Beth Leavel plays magazine editor Miranda Priestly in the Broadway-bound musical "The Devil Wears Prada." Courtesy of Jenny Anderson

“I'm a little rusty,” she said. “I don't know if I remember how to sing, dance and act, but I'll get there.”

“We were all emotional,” agreed Anna D. Shapiro, the former Steppenwolf Theatre artistic director making her musical directing debut with “Prada.”

The Tony Award-winner for “August: Osage County” waxed philosophic about what it means for theater artists to finally resume the work they love.

“The truth is people who get to live their life in the American theater are very lucky. It's never anything other than a blessing,” she said. “There's ego death after ego death, but in the end we're really lucky to be part of it.”

A musical by design

When Tony-winning producer Kevin McCollum considered bringing “The Devil Wears Prada” to the stage about nine years ago, he thought immediately of Elton John, a pop music star with Broadway bona fides who, for decades, has incorporated fashion into his persona and his stage show.

“His songs are character-driven,” said the Deerfield High School graduate, “they're all about the human journey.”

By 2016, McCollum had secured the rights to the material and had his composer and lyricist Taub on board. But he needed a director. McCollum - who knew Steppenwolf from his days as a Chicago actor - approached Shapiro. Familiar with her work there and on Broadway, McCollum knew Shapiro would be an ideal collaborator.

After joining the creative team in early 2019, Shapiro gave herself a crash course in musical theater, taking in as many Broadway and off-Broadway shows as possible. Among them was “The Prom,” co-starring Leavel. Shapiro left the theater convinced she had found her Miranda. When she informed McCollum and Taub about the astonishing actress she discovered, they burst out laughing at Shapiro “discovering” the Broadway veteran and three-time Tony nominee.

Steppenwolf Theatre's Anna D. Shapiro, center, directs a rehearsal of "The Devil Wears Prada," the musical adapted from the hit 2006 film running through Aug. 21 in Chicago. Courtesy of Jenny Anderson

Faux pas aside, Shapiro said it feels nice “to be looked at through different eyes.”

“Selfishly, it made me feel good,” she said, “like I'm maybe more than, or different than I thought I was.”

McCollum planned to preview the show in Chicago in 2020 until COVID-19 intervened. Delayed, but not derailed by the pandemic, McCollum, Shapiro and Leavel were convinced the show would go on.

“I never doubted this show would happen because of the energy and love behind it. I just didn't know when,” said Leavel, who describes herself as “halfway between terrified and exhilarated” at the prospect of creating Miranda Priestly on stage.

“This delicious Miranda carrot has been dangling for almost three years,” she said.

Jones was less certain. As months turned into years, she worried “Prada” would never happen. Now that it has, she couldn't be happier.

Anna “has really created a space for us all to grow as artists and be supported as humans,” Jones said. “I've never been in a rehearsal space that has felt so geared toward safety for our souls and for our physical beings.”

Working on the musical reminded Shapiro how much making theater means to her.

“I learned that I still love this,” she said. “I'm speeding toward 60, seemingly at breakneck speed. I've been doing this since I was 18 and ... being able to become a student of the theater again and have my teachers be these young women on my (artistic/creative) team and this acting company, which is so committed, it made me love being a director again.”

“It made me love being in the theater again,” she said.

“The Devil Wears Prada”

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday through Aug. 21. Also 6 p.m. Aug. 7 and 2 p.m. Aug. 14 and 21

Where: James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago,

Tickets: $29.50-$171.50

COVID-19 precautions: Masks recommended

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