CHICAGO — “You’ve got no style or sense of fashion,” viciously notes the fictional magazine editor Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada.”
She’s dressing down her dowdy prospective new assistant, Andy, but that same harsh criticism should be lobbed at the bargain-bin new musical adaptation of the film and Lauren Weisberger’s novel that opened Sunday night in Chicago.
2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. At the James L. Nederlander Theater in Chicago.
Call the Fashion Police. The alarmingly un-fun and sluggish show with a score by Elton John and Shaina Taub is a dud about duds, and the worst screen-to-stage move in recent memory.
Considering the mind-numbing movie properties that have been cynically schlepped to Broadway the past few seasons, that’s an achievement worthy of the Guinness Book.
Every song is lousy, and there is nothing here worth fixing.
No convincing artistic effort has been made to reinterpret the film and book into something new that makes logical and compelling sense onstage. Just about every plot point is identical to the 2006 film that was slick, sexy and satisfying and earned Meryl Streep a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
But “Prada” should have been reworked completely. When the cinematic story is lifelessly put to music, it becomes mopey and slow; fruity and boring; laughless and sterile. The “Devil” wears thin.
It’s still about Andy (Taylor Iman Jones, capable and textureless), an aspiring New York journalist who unwillingly becomes the second assistant at Runway magazine, a stand-in for Vogue, led by Miranda Priestly (Beth Leavel) — a cruel but brilliant editor a la Anna Wintour who lords over the fashion industry with icy glares and put-downs.
At first a Kmart mess, Andy learns how to navigate the treacherous waters of Runway while alienating her annoying Brooklyn friends and boyfriend and earning the ire of first assistant Emily (Megan Masako Haley).
Composers John and Taub, book writer Kate Wetherhead and director Anna D. Shapiro have squandered beloved source material, even while borrowing heavily from it.
The plot’s early aughts sensibilities have been cautiously and stupidly updated to 2022 mores. Andy is now a progressive Gen Z striver and Miranda is, I dunno, Nancy Reagan?
When Andy says she thought she was going to a job interview at a Vox-like website called City Dweller, Miranda calls the publication “a liberal echo chamber.” Later the fearsome editor mockingly sings, “Who has time for handbags when democracy’s at stake?!”
What the heel? No one in the fashion world would ever say that, especially now, and it’s a completely wrongheaded way to define the mysterious character.
Miranda is a major hurdle for the musical because of how little she shares. Musicals, of course, hinge on over-sharing. That’s what a ballad is. To compensate early on, Leavel sings some awkward patter songs as though she’s the very model of a Modern Major Editor. Later, her big number dela in Act 2 at a Paris luncheon is a vocally impressive “Cruella de Vil” tune, but forgettable and oddly placed. Thus, Miranda has been turned into a supporting role.
Leavel, a funny powerhouse vocal on “The Prom” and “Drowsy Chaperone,” has been miscast here. In tandem with the writers, she makes Miranda come across as a mean middle-manager rather than a grand cultural icon.
Andy and Miranda, mystifyingly, never even sing a duet, which is what we wait for all night. Instead, the climax is a dull, soft-spoken scene.
There are lots of womp-womp choices like that. For example, too much stage time is given to Andy’s downer roommates (Christiana Cole and Tiffany Mann) and her chef beau (Michael Tacconi), who sing a funeral dirge about losing her friend to her job.
Another weepy number is sung by Nigel, the Runway editorial director, in Paris about growing up gay in Kalamazoo. “I used to hide in closets, but I cure them now,” he sings. You’ve Prada be kidding me.
Regardless, the actor Javier Munoz, who plays Nigel, is the best part of the show. His material is cringey, old-fashioned “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”-style jokes, but he has terrific energy.
Some will see “Prada” for John, who besides giving us “Tiny Dancer” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” wrote the great Broadway musicals “The Lion King” and “Billy Elliot” (and also the bad musicals “Aida” and “Lestat”).
But “Devil” has overtaken the misguided vampire debacle “Lestat” as the worst stage music of John’s career. None of these songs will show up on the set list of his inevitable final, final, final farewell tour of him.
What a shame. “Prada” was never a deep movie. Streep was sensational and elevated what she was handed. What the stage show needed to do was build an intoxicating world of New York fashion, let us inhabit that exclusive club and give us a chic good time.
Instead, we got an ugly bore.
Most regrettably, the clothes by Arianne Phillips are let-downs — even in Andy’s dress-up number called “Who’s She?” They’re nowhere near as fabulous as Bob Mackie’s spectacular looks in “The Cher Show” or Amneris’ outfits in “My Strongest Suit” from John’s “Aida.”
What should’ve been a haute couture musical is hopelessly ready-to-wear.