The Devil Wears Prada: now a musical with tunes from Elton John


“Florals … for Spring? Groundbreaking.”

Rendered with deadly sarcasm by Miranda Priestley, via Meryl Streep, it is one of the most iconic lines in “The Devil Wears Prada.” And, having only become more imbued in the culture over the years — thanks, partly, to its fixture in GIFs — I steeled myself to hear it drop when attending the world premiere of the musical “The Devil Wears Prada” the other night. As expected, it came verbatim, in the first act — prompting the requisite share of titters from the audience.

Destination: Chicago (a city which — besides being the land of deep-dish nirvana and architectural finesse — is both the third largest city in the U.S., and is its second city of theatre). Bingo: a stage version of a classic some 16 years after its release … and, well, a lifetime in fashion. Boasting a score by Elton John, no less, together with Shaina Taub, it itched to hit all its familiar beats: a story about big breaks, faux pas, comings-of-age, and bosses from hell.

A musical … based on a popular movie? Groundbreaking.

That — if I’m being honest — was a thought that tugged, when walking to the premiere earlier, as I recalled other such productions as “Mean Girls,” “Legally Blonde,” and “Sister Act,” to name just a few. But just feeling the vim of the crowd, once I approached — the enthusiasm, contagious — helped to melt all that. Outside, on Randolph Street, taking pics against the all-aglow James M. Nederlander Theatre, were flocks of giddy men: both young fab ones, in shimmery tops and bold patterns and even one in Peter Pen tights, as well as older gents in blazers who still possibly use the term “Friends of Dorothy.” Pools of women meshed inside, as I inched further: some looked like they were en route to a summer wedding; others in their Tinder finest.

A big night out in the Windy City: the feeling. Author Lauren Weisberger, who wrote the thinly-veiled novel about her time at Vogue that started it all, floated by, at one point. In the lobby, meanwhile, they were pushing a drink that read “Cerulean Spritzer” — a nod to the famous Cerulean Blue speech that is most associated with Miranda. Eventually I took my seat two rows up from a trio of drag queens, one in an Ivana beehive (RIP).

The edifice we were in — itself a Chicago marvel — lent to the fabulousness. Originally known as the Oriental Theatre, opened to great fanfare in 1926, it was one of the first motion picture palaces. Added to the National Registry of Historic Places, in 1978, it still makes a pretty startling impression: an interior full of elephant thrones and glazed Buddhas; a vaulted ceiling in the auditorium full of Indochine excess and OMG mosaics.

Click-clack. Click-clack. How the show eventually announced itself. Hearing, not seeing, the march of high heels, as we are shuttled to the world of Taylor Iman Jones, as upstart Andy (played by Anne Hathaway in the movie), who soon goes to work for Beth Leavel playing our Runway editrix, a.k.a. fashion’s Darth Vader.

As expected, while much of the story is the same, the dialogue has been given a modern restitching, with varying levels of success. I did not, for instance, ever imagine Miranda Priestley name-dropping Roxane Gay, the feminist writer, but that she does, at one point. And here we are.

“Get Amal on the phone!” is also a line we get (a Clooney ref that would have had zero resonance back in the day). Zendaya gets a shout-out now. So does “climate change.” As do “Harry and Meghan” (Markle, alas, was still opening suitcases on “Deal or No Deal” back in 2006). Instagram this, and Instagram that. We get that, too — something to distinguish it from its original incarnation (when the movie premiered, fashion, alas, had not yet been hijacked by IG).

And while some of the staging rocks — the recreation of “The Ball” that Miranda lords over is literally presented as some sort of red-hued inferno, and the life-sized mounting of the Eiffel Tower, in the second act, is pretty fun — the music itself is … dare I say … a little off-the-rack? (Sorry, Elton). The only number that comes even close to being an earworm is the power anthem “Dress Your Way Up” (which accompanies the big makeover scene).

The clearest miscast, in my mind? Leavel as Priestley. The actress is a seasoned stage performer, for sure (has a Tony!), but this is not your role, girl. She came across to me as an uptight socialite, rather than capturing the hushed imperiousness of the character in the film. While it is undoubtedly harder to project frosty restraint onstage — particularly in a musical — her Miranda, frankly, seems like the kind of woman Meryl’s Miranda would eat for lunch.

MVPs? They include Megan Masako Haley as determined First Assistant Emily (her big song, “Bon Voyage,” is a hoot), but, even more so, Javier Muñoz as style guru Nigel (the old Stanley Tucci role). Javier steals it, particularly during a poignant ballad he mounts about feeling like an outsider when he was growing up gay, and then finding a home in fashion. The song is called “Seen, Suddenly Seen,” and it soars.

Strangely, the show also leans further into the part of the movie that was always the least interesting — Andy’s relationship with her beau, and her struggle between career and personal. Who cares?

And yet — and yet — by the time it came for bows at the end, I kinda ended up being swept up by it all. The energy in the room, and the thunderous response by the audience, clinched it. The magic of live theatre, y’know? It heads next to Broadway but any other plans are under tight wraps.

With “Prada” being an excuse to do a quickie visit to Chicago, by the way, I also managed to catch up with some other fresh buzz. A groundbreaking retrospective on French painter Paul Cezanne, for one — up now at the Art Institute of Chicago. It is vast, and it is glorious. Talk about always being in fashion!

In the West Loop area of town, I dropped into what is probably the buzziest spot in town these days: Rose Mary. Opened earlier this year by Top Chef champ Joe Flamm, it leans into his Croatian roots. Pretty great. Likewise: the moody new neighbourhood haunt, Alpana, in the Gold Coast hood, courtesy of Alpana Singh, a local fave who remains the youngest female ever to earn the title of Master Sommelier.

Walking around the riverfront area — never gets old — I also stopped into the Museum of Ice Cream, on Michigan Avenue. I screamed! A multi-sensory explosion of sweet and sprinkles, it did occur to me that the whole thing would probably be Miranda Priestly’s worst nightmare. The devil may wear Prada, but she most certainly does not do dairy.

Shinan Govani is a Toronto-based freelance contributing columnist covering culture and society. Follow him on Twitter: @shinangovani


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