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Review: THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA at Nederlander Theatre

Review: THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA at Nederlander Theatre

A broken-heeled Prada limps opens in Chicago

Haute mess. Fashion weak. Prêt-à-poor taste. I could go on with the fashion puns all day, but suffice to say THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, the new musical which opened Sunday in not quite ready for the runway in its current state.

The question now becomes: can anything be done to save this mess?

The book of the musical by Kate Wetherhead hits most of the comedic moments. It's only fault it that it sticks to the script of the iconic 2006 film a little bit too closely that screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna should probably be fighting for co-writing credit.

Or maybe not. Perhaps it is best to distance yourself from this show in its current state.

Andy Sachs (a likeable Taylor Iman Jones) is a fresh faced, recent college graduate looking to take the Big Apple by storm. After more than a few rejections that should serve as a wake-up call to just how brutal New York can be, she lands a job as an editorial assistant at a magazine called Runway working for its much-feared editor Miranda Priestly (Beth Leavel who is completely wasted in the role as currently written).

Andy is reluctantly taking under the wings by Miranda's current first assistant Emily (an appropriately bitchy, dismissive and funny Megan Masako Haley) and given some much needed fashion advice by the magazine's gay artistic director Nigel (a great performance by Javier Muñoz).

The demanding job has her soon abandoning her friends Lauren (Christiana Cole) and Kayla (Tiffany Mann) as well as her boyfriend Nate (Michael Tacconi) as Andy strives to prove herself to Miranda.

A Met Gala-like fashion ball at the end of Act One is meant to symbolize Andy finalizing the Faustian pact with Miranda, but she has already changed so much, it is almost a moot point by then.

Besides, only real New Yorkers would sell their souls for Met Gala tickets. Am I right?

Where the show really limps as if walking on broken Manolo Blahnik heel is the score. I'm not sure if Elton John was intentionally trying to top the worst musical he's ever made (LESTAT), but mission accomplished.

Review: THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA at Nederlander Theatre At most, there are three serviceable songs here and none of them are sung by the show's leads. Munoz brings some much needed glitz to Andy's well-anticipated remake scene with the tune "Dress Your Way Up."

His character is also given some much needed backstory with a tender tune in the second act about how a fashion magazine offered a little gay boy from Kalamazoo some salvation and now he curates closets instead of hiding in them.

Haley has the third best song in the show, a melt-down of of sorts in which she wishes Andy "bon voyage" after the new comer stabs her in the back for a trip to Paris Fashion Week.

While Jones gamely sings the hell out of the material she is presented with as the lead in a musical, it is unlikely you will recall a single lick of lyric by Shaina Taub let alone leave the theater humming any of the melodies.

Leveal -who has a boffo voice and much comedic talent (the irony of Meryl Streep replacing her in the film version of "The Prom" and she replacing Streep here should not be lost on anyone). She is never provided the opportunity to show that talent, though. She is basically given patter songs ala Henry Higgins until her 11 o'clock number. And while that song is masterfully sung, the melody and lyric don't really provide the intensity required. It is no show stopper and it needs to be.

The worst of the score is probably the first act closer in which Taub has the unfortunate task of rhyming "Prada" to create lyric that fit the title of the show. Put simply, the end results are cringe-worthy.

If the show is to find any success on Broadway, Elton John is going to have to re-write much of the score. Unfortunately, I suspect we are heading into Bono and Edge SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK territory with Elton John, like Bono and Edge before him, too focused on a tour than to put the time and energy into giving life to a new musical.

Direction by Chicago's own Anna D. Shapiro is at a brisk pace. Though musicals are not normally in Shapiro's wheelhouse she succeeds here. None of the musical numbers really feel like they drag (despite Elton John's best attempts to lull us all to sleep with this mediocre score).

The scenic and media designs by Brett Banakis service the show well (there is one transformation in the second act that I won't spoil, but it is a bit of a showstopper). One minor quibble is with a projection of the New York skyline from the Runway offices. I'm not 100% sure it is geographically correct, but if I'm right the New York critics will have a field day with it.

The costumes by Arianne Phillips are another dud for the most part. Particularly the big scene in the first act when Nigel gets Andy into the magazine's famed wardrobe closet for the make-over. The parade of costumes that are supposed to be daring and thrilling are all a singular color. To quote a sarcastic Miranda: Couture in all white...groundbreaking.

The 2003 book was a scandalous look inside a fashion industry magazine. It dared to bare some truths about the cutthroat world of mainstream publishing. And having spent more than a decade early in my career working at one such place, I can confirm that the publishing world is very much full of all-controlling Miranda Priestlys and new comers like Andy Sachs who, intentionally or not, will do whatever it takes to get ahead.

The show, unfortunately, never measure up to the wit, sarcasm or pure bite of either book or film on which it is based. Perhaps most grievously, it ends on a whimper with Andy isolating her friends and lover yet again for her latest obsession (writing the novel on which the show is based).

Her character hasn't learned anything new. And, sadly, that's true of her audience, too.

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA runs through Aug. 21 at the Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph Tickets: $25-$95.50. www.broadwayinchicago.com

All photos by Joan Marcus, courtesy of the production.

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