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New musical version of The Devil Wears Prada’s journeys on the runway

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CHICAGO Here’s my urgent plea to the creators of the new musical The Devil Wears Prada: Let Miranda be Miranda.

The sheer joy of the 2006 film version of The Devil Wears Prada starring Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly, the venomous gorgon wrapped in Dolce & Gabbana was in character villainy disguised as editorial prerogative in a fashion rag fictional New York. Now, in the new stage version with music from Elton John getting a tryout here at the James M. Nederlander Theater, Mirandas has been toned down. To no one’s advantage, especially Beth Leavel, the veteran Broadway actress who inherits the role.

This musical adaptation, with direction by Anna D. Shapiro and costumes by Arianne Phillips that make it look like Miranda is buying Saks Off 5th at a discount, does not exude any outrageous style or entitlement at this point that made film a guilty pleasure. With Streep at the controls, looks were killer and looks could kill. Perhaps to make Miranda more palatable for a musical, writer Kate Wetherhead and the rest of the creative team cut back on bullying Andrea Andy Sachs, the idealistic journalism major played by the charming Taylor Iman Jones, who is hired as Miranda’s second assistant. .

While the humanitarian impulse is admirable, the effect on history is deadly. It now emerges as a rather varied tale of a young woman forced to adjust to an inconsiderate boss who sometimes presses the cruelty button. We have no idea what transformation is happening to Andy and why taking on the challenge of impressing Miranda brings him satisfaction. And you’re watching, too, feeling like HR forced Miranda to do a PowerPoint on personality adjustment at work. It kind of half worked on her, much to the relief of her colleagues and the detriment of the rest of us.

A film adaptation with Broadway aspirations, this one is produced by Kevin McCollum, one of Rent’s original producers, as well as last season’s hit Six sometimes attracting outsized attention, like The Devil Wears Prada. Don’t ask me to count how many times I’ve seen film by director David Frankels, based on the novel by Lauren Weisberger. (Reproduced on stage is the invaluable lecture that a dismayed Miranda gives to the distraught Andy, on the difference between blue and cerulean.)

The anticipation of how Elton John and lyricist Shaina Taub, composer of recent off-Broadways Suffs, would musicalize Mirandas Vogue-like Runway magazine toxicity turned Sunday night at The Nederlander into a rare national critics convention. Such was the curiosity aroused by this venture that in addition to the Chicago Tribune and other Chicago outlets, representatives from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, New York Post and other were present.

The gathering seemed a marker of how eagerly everyone was searching for the next big hit, at a time when the theater world feels strangely adrift. The death of Stephen Sondheim last fall left musical theater without an inspiring monarch; Although Sondheim hasn’t produced a new musical in years, his presence among us has lent a permanent sense of importance and genius to the form. Elton John is a resounding songwriter, and he had success on Broadway, with The Lion King and, to a lesser extent, Aida.

But The Devil Wears Prada’s professional music lacks the carefree spirit of its best tunes. It’s a pop score in numbers, embroidering the effect Andy’s hours at Runway have on his relationships with boyfriend Nate (Michael Tacconi) and friends Lauren (Christiana Cole) and Kayla (Tiffany Mann). Slightly livelier, Megan Masako Haley sings the role Emily Blunt appropriated in the film, that of Emily, a fashion-savvy, turf-obsessed first assistant. More successfully, Hamilton alumnus Javier Muoz picks up where Stanley Tucci left off in the film, playing Nigel, Miranda’s unhappily loyal sidekick who is here rewarded with the night’s two best acts: Dress Your Way Up and Seen.

The musical can’t (and really shouldn’t) regurgitate all of the film’s best moments, but the ones it picks up lack the acidity of flat social satire. The joy of the kebab was lost. Even more disappointingly, the fashion sense on the New York and Paris ironwork sets feels out of place. Phillipss’ suits seem to be less fashion than low budget.

It should be noted that Leavel certainly has Miranda’s ultra-theatrical DNA; in the stage version of The Prom, she played the campy musical theater star that Streep portrayed in the later film adaptation. With the trajectory now reversed, Leavel should have had the opportunity on the Dutch stage for total tyrannical hyperventilation.

The devil wears Prada, music by Elton John, lyrics by Shaina Taub, book by Kate Wetherhead. Directed by Anna D. Shapiro. Choreography, James Alsop; musical direction, Nadia DiGiallonardo; set design, Christine Jones and Brett Banakis; costumes, Arianne Phillips; lighting, Paule Constable; sound design, Nevin Steinberg; orchestrations, Giles Martin. With Christian Thompson. About 2 hours 25 minutes. Until August 21 at James M. Dutch Theater, Chicago. broadwayinchicago.com/show/prada/

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