Ryan Murphy's prodigious output on Netflix has really hit the afterburners in the latter half of 2020. After adapting the Broadway production of The Boys in the Band, dropping Season 2 of The Politician, and crafting a baroque Sarah Paulson series out of the Nurse Ratched character from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, he's now taking on a big ole musical-theater production.
The Prom carries some high expectations. For one thing, the stage musical is barely cool from its run on Broadway, having closed in August of 2019, after racking up six Tony Award nominations. Not only that, but Murphy has managed to pack his film with A-List stars in order to tell this story of a quartet of self-involved Broadway performers who try to turn their careers around by adopting the cause of a pair of teenage girls who are in love and want to attend prom together, despite their school's efforts to block them.
The show is light and glitzy and silly and fun, but it's also grounded with the emotions of teen love and acceptance, terrain Murphy has trod again and again in so many of his hit shows. Only this cast is way beyond anything he's ever done in the star department. Read on to see who's playing who in Netflix's The Prom.
If you've come to this article wondering who Meryl Streep is, you've got some catching up to do. She's earned three Oscars, 21 nominations, an ungodly number of Golden Globe nominations, and almost every other acting accolade you can think of. She doesn't have a Tony Award, however, and while her recent spate of filmed musicals like Into the Woods and Mary Poppins Returns have shown she's quite game for the genre, it's still probably Meryl as close as she gets to shaky ground. Here she plays Dee Dee Allen, a self-obsessed Broadway actress dealing with a career at a standstill. The role earned Beth Leavel a Tony nomination in 2019, so expect big musical-actressy things as Dee Dee migrates to Indiana to get her career re-started.
James Corden's name has got to be at the top of the casting lists for any and all big Hollywood musicals, because he's been doing them all. He got decent notices for playing The Baker in 2015's Into the Woods, and although reviews were somewhat less kind for his turn as Bustopher Jones in last year's disastrous Cats, the man is a Tony Award-winning stage actor who's also hosted said Tony Awards multiple times. Of course, he's best known in America for hosting The Late, Late Show on CBS, having hit viral gold with "Carpool Karaoke" and "Crosswalk: The Musical" among other things. His character, Barry Glickman, is Dee Dee Allen's co-star in a massive Broadway flop from which they attempt to recover by trying to latch onto a cause at an Indiana high school.
Oscar- and Emmy-winning Nicole Kidman is about as A-List as they get, which is only appropriate considering the character she's playing is named for a glamorous bombshell of an actress in her own right. Angie is one of the quartet of Broadway stars who descend upon small-town Indiana in The Prom. Kidman has definitely worked out her singing voice on film before, in her Oscar-nominated performance in Moulin Rouge! and the 2009 musical film Nine. She also quite recently crooned the theme song for her HBO miniseries The Undoing, where she played a woman whose husband is accused of murder and who herself likes to take a lot of walks.
One half of the already legendary comedy team Key & Peele, Keegan-Michael Key has been killing it on Netflix this holiday season. He can currently be seen as evil inventor Gustafson in the Netflix original movie Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey. That film gave Key the chance to exercise his musical chops, so his turn as the small-town principal that bars a gay couple from attending prom together is just keeping his 2020 output thematically tight. He recently starred in Netflix films Dolemite Is My Name and All the Bright Places, and in the 2019 Netflix series Friends from College and The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistence. He was also a voice performer in both The Lion King and Toy Story 4 last year.
For a career that's still less than a decade old, Andrew Rannells has packed a lot into his stage, TV, and film resume. His big breakthrough was starring in the original Broadway production of The Book of Mormon, for which he was Tony-nominated (he was nominated again in 2017 for his role in Falsettos). He turned an early guest-starring turn on HBO's Girls into a regular character. He starred in Ryan Murphy's short-lived sitcom The New Normal, thus entering Murphy's regular rotation of performers, which has garnered him roles in the Netflix features The Boys in the Band and The Prom. He also is currently one of the stars of Showtime's Black Monday. In The Prom he rounds out the quartet of Broadway actors, alongside Streep, Corden, and Kidman.
Murphy conducted a nationwide search for the actress who would play the role of Emma Nolan, a high school girl in Indiana who is being prevented from attending the prom with her girlfriend. Caitlin Kinnunen got a Tony nomination for her performance as Emma last year, so expectations are high. Pellman has previously appeared in HBO's The Deuce and Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
The role of Alyssa Greene — Emma's girlfriend — was originally going to go to pop star Ariana Grande, but after her other pop star commitments made that impossible, world-class dancer and performer Ariana DeBose stepped in. After a too-short stint on the sixth season of FOX's reality dance competition So You Think You Can Dance, DeBose took to Broadway, with roles in the musical version of Bring It On and in the original Broadway production of Hamilton. If there hadn't been a pandemic in 2020, we'd also be getting ready for DeBose's take onthe role of Anita in Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story. Considering that role won an Oscar for Rita Moreno, it's fair to say DeBose would probably be having an even bigger moment right now.
Kevin Chamberlin plays the group's publicist Sheldon, who joins the four actors on their journey to Indiana. Perhaps most recognizable to TV viewers for his role as Bertram Winkle in the Disney Channel Original Series sitcom Jessie, Chamberlin has earned three Tony Award nomations over a twenty-year Broadway career. His film credits include roles in Die Hard with a Vengeance and Lucky Number Slevin.
In The Prom, Mrs. Greene is not only Alyssa's mother, but she's also PTA president and the one leading the charge against a gay couple at prom. She's played by film and TV star Kerry Washington, who's best known for playing iconic Washington D.C. fixer Olivia Pope for seven seasons on ABC's Scandal. She's also starred in films like Ray, opposite Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx, and Django Unchained, again opposite Foxx and Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz. Most recently, Washington was Emmy-nominated for her role opposite Reese Witherspoon in Hulu's dramatic miniseries Little Fires Everywhere.
The Prom drops on Netflix Friday December 11, 2020
Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.