Slight alterations needed for 'The Devil Wears Prada' musical in Chicago
"The Devil Wears Prada, The Musical" - ★ ★ ★
How good can a new musical be if its composer is largely AWOL while the show finds its footing before live preview audiences?
That's the question hovering over the world premiere of "The Devil Wears Prada, The Musical," which had its press opening Sunday after five weeks of previews at Chicago's James M. Nederlander Theatre. The composer is Elton John ("The Lion King," "Billy Elliot"), but the rock superstar has mostly been elsewhere on his pandemic-delayed "Farewell Yellow Brick Road" global tour.
Thankfully, the rest of "The Devil Wears Prada" creative team has been in town to make daily tweaks to this Broadway-bound musical filled with razzle-dazzle moments. "The Devil Wears Prada" has the makings of a buzz-filled hit, but the show is still in need of some editing to live up to both Lauren Weisberger's best-selling 2003 novel and its beloved blockbuster movie adaptation from 2006.
"The Devil Wears Prada" is a contemporary Faustian Cinderella story about aspiring writer Andrea "Andy" Sachs (Taylor Iman Jones) who can't land a New York journalism job after college. So, Andy takes a high-stress junior assistant position under Miranda Priestly (Tony Award-winner Beth Leavel), the exacting and tyrannical editor-in-chief of the glossy fashion magazine "Runway."
Jones delivers plenty of fish-out-of-water fun as Andy makes fashion and other faux pas in front of Leavel's deliciously judgmental Miranda. Jones works marvelously opposite "Hamilton" alum Javier Muñoz, who shines as gay fashion editor Nigel Owens in the showy makeover number "Dress Your Way Up" and the introspective song "Seen, Finally Seen." Megan Masako Haley is also a delight as the dieting and often antagonistic senior assistant Emily Charlton.
On the production side, "The Devil Wears Prada" frequently impresses under the leadership of former Steppenwolf Theatre artistic director Anna D. Shapiro, who is buttressed by a marvelous design team. Christine Jones and Brett Banakis' scenic and projection work is stylish and sleek, while an abundance of haute-couture costumes by Ariane Phillips and the flashy lighting displays of Paule Constable amaze.
More problematic is playwright Kate Wetherhead's book adaptation, which palls in the shadow of Aline Brosh McKenna's adapted screenplay. Many of the film's withering catchphrases are recycled, but Wetherhead's new material isn't up to that level.
For example, Andy's support-system friends are bland or underdeveloped, such as her upright chef boyfriend, Nate (Michael Tacconi), and her roommates Kayla and Lauren (Tiffany Mann and Christiana Cole, whose dialogue could be punched up with more humor). "The Devil Wears Prada" also loses steam when the scene shifts to Paris, as the leadership dynamics over "Runway's" succession feels rushed and tacked on.
There's also a tonally wrong Act II seduction scene between Andy and established magazine writer Christopher Thompson (an actor who shares his character's moniker). Having these two romantically woo to a jazzy ragtime number is puzzling, while choreographer James Alsop's pairs of same-sex background lovers come off as Parisian cliches.
But what of the score? Luckily "The Devil Wears Prada" features lyrics and song arrangements by Shaina Taub, the author and star of the ambitious 2022 off-Broadway musical "Suffs" about America's early women's rights movement. Taub's lyrics prove that she's an astute storyteller in song, though the score could use more catchy melodic hooks to grab the audience's attention.
So, if "The Devil Wears Prada" wants to triumph in New York, it will need some alterations. In its current state, the musical wouldn't live up to the high standards of its devilish title character.
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Location: James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000, broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday, through Aug. 21
Running time: About 2 hours, 25 minutes, with intermission
Tickets: $35-$120; premium seats available
Parking: Area pay garages and limited metered street parking
Rating: For teens and older, mild sexuality
COVID-19 precautions: Masking optional