‘Devil Wears Prada the Musical’ Review: A Fashion and Stage Misstep

Now in its world premiere ahead of a planned Broadway opening in 2023, “The Devil Wears Prada, the Musical” runs the gamut from mild amusement to mostly egregious disappointment, the latter being its defining ethos.

Until August 21 at the Nederlander Theatre, Elton John’s version of the world of haute couture has its work cut out for it. For now, this behind-the-scenes story set in the world’s biggest fashion magazine is more a JC Penney clearance catalog than haute couture.

“The Devil Wears Prada, the Musical” (book by Kate Wetherhead, lyrics by Shaina Taub) has its roots in Lauren Weisberger’s 2003 encoding novel about working at a major fashion magazine, written after she did a season as Vogue’s infamous assistant and the magazine’s demanding editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour.

‘The devil wears Prada, the musical’

The novel’s dirty scenes of opulence and overwork spawned the 2006 film version starring Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly, editor-in-chief of Runway magazine, and Anne Hathaway as Andy Sachs, a new hire who believes fashion is frivolous. and he sees Runway as a way to pay his rent until he can change the world by writing about social justice issues.

One of the main problems with director Anna D. Shapiro’s staging of the musical “Prada,” starring Tony Award winner Beth Leavel as Miranda and Taylor Iman Jones as Andy, is its underwhelming fashion sense. Frankly, you’ll see more creative silhouettes in any season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Costume designer Arianne Phillips often tries to make bright or oversized graphic prints offset an unimpressive design, but it takes a lot more than a little flash on the surface. Every look, from an ill-fitting red gown Miranda wears to the office to the bulbous, armless, Michelin Man creations that purport to be cutting-edge Parisian couture, seems under-budgeted and poorly finished.

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We also don’t have a clue about Runway magazine. We are told, on numerous occasions, in a reverential tone, of the legends and icons that have paraded through the corridors of the magazine. But there is no sense of detail or story, not so much as a fashion illustration, in the setting and media design of Christine Jones or Brett Banakis. The office aesthetic is basic and generic, the fashions inside resembling arts and crafts projects with little actual art.

Taylor Iman Jones (from left), Javier Muñoz and Beth Leavel star in

Taylor Iman Jones (from left), Javier Muñoz and Beth Leavel star in “The Devil Wears Prada, The Musical.”

More problematic, “The Devil Wears Prada, the Musical” feels written by committee, some addressing Gen Z issues (there’s a drinking song about “jobs that pay rent” and a nonsensical jingle about living in the 20), some dealing with fashion, some addressing the plight of pioneering women in the workplace. None of these elements come together in a compelling story. Neither is approached with any particular intensity or ingenuity.

Then there is the music.

One of the best somber song offerings is a sung/spoken soliloquy-like number by Miranda based on the film’s iconic speech that wears a cerulean blue belt to explain the global social and economic reach of the fashion industry. In Miranda’s succinct explanation of fashion’s inescapable influence throughout the world, Leavel offers a shade worthy of an ice age, freezing Andy’s banter into silence. Although much of it is spoken rather than sung, it remains the highlight of a score that is otherwise about as flat as a freshly ironed hem.

The title tune is a head scratcher. His insistent insistence that Priestly is actually a demon in designer rags almost undoes all the work Leavel has done to portray Miranda as more than just a one-dimensional narcissistic elitist. Elton John wrote brilliant scores for “Billy Elliot” and “Aida.” Here, his music does not advance the story or deepen the characters. Worse yet, it doesn’t provide a unique and memorable star turn for the leads.

Adequate performances from Jones and Leavel are bolstered by a supporting cast of characters drawn from the film and book. Runway art director Nigel (Javier Muñoz) is the quintessential raunchy best friend, right down to a withering dislike for synthetics and a predictable number about growing up gay in a homophobic small town. Miranda’s first assistant, Emily (Megan Masako Haley), is quite the high-strung ambition. Andy’s friends and roommates mostly serve to bring up a brief plot point about housing insecurity, an issue that is resolved almost as soon as it is talked about.

Directed by Shapiro, “The Devil Wears Prada, the Musical” attempts to emulate the film’s slightly comical and somewhat acerbic exploration of an industry that’s all glamor and wealth on the outside, something much messier on the inside. It only manages to create a dim copy of a copy.

In its current state, “The Devil Wears Prada, the Musical” is a poor imitation, a cheap flea market bag with a designer label gunned into the lining. Let’s go back to the sketchbook!

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