Chad Beguelin, Bob Martin, and Matthew Sklar on Adapting Their Prom for the Big Screen
The Tony-nominated creators of the Broadway musical repeat their duties in the new film by Ryan Murphy.
"The first day we walked on set," Chad Beguelin remarks, "they were shooting the opening number. We were blown away that they had created an entire Times Square as a set."
"And a Sardi's," adds Beguelin's partner-in-song, Matthew Sklar. "And a Shubert Theatre outside the window."
It was one of many surreal moments for Beguelin, Sklar, and fellow writer Bob Martin, who went from watching their Tony-nominated cult hit The Prom end its Broadway run sooner than it should have, to seeing it materialize on a soundstage in California as Ryan Murphy turned it into a film for Netflix. Though the beloved Broadway company wasn't invited to the dance this time around, their megawatt movie equivalents include Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Keegan-Michael Key, and Kerry Washington.
The differences, though, basically end there, says Martin. "Those who have seen the show won't see a huge difference in terms of the actual dialogue and music." In fact, Murphy, a longtime supporter of the Broadway production making his first foray into movie-musicals, allowed them to go deeper. "We really embellished what we had written," Martin adds. "We had the unique opportunity to get deeper into certain storylines and make manifest certain characters that we couldn't onstage." Mary Kay Place plays grandmother to lesbian protagonist Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman), while Tracey Ullman makes a completely unrecognizable appearance as estranged mother to James Corden's flamboyant Broadway star Barry Glickman.
Beguelin admits that he was surprised by how true the film stays to their theatrical baby. "When it first started going around that Ryan was interested, Matt and I thought we'd get like five songs in the movie," he says. "Some of the songs are a little shorter because the movie couldn't be three hours," Sklar continues, "but they're all there." And while the Broadway music team "made miracles" with a pit orchestra of nine and a cast recording band of 15, the 90 instrumentalists hired for the film blew the writers away. "It's like a cry fest every time I hear it," Sklar adds. "When you have 48 strings playing 'Unruly Heart' and 'Dance with You' and 'We Look to You,' that's something you can't do anywhere but the movies."
There are even two new numbers that play over the credits. One is the much-discussed "Wear Your Crown," where Streep raps, a section Beguelin admits he wrote "sort of as a joke, thinking they'd never use it," and the other is a solo for Corden called "Simply Love." That song was written for the movie "to expand on Barry's line, 'If you don't let your daughter be who she is, you'll lose her," Sklar notes. A combination of expanding Barry and his mother's arc, plus Covid limitations, left the number recorded, but unshot.
Beguelin and Martin, credited with the screenplay, are most happy that "Love Thy Neighbor," a song where Andrew Rannells's Trent Oliver convinces the townspeople to change their bigoted ways, made it into the film. "That's a really subversive moment," Martin says. "It's a big production number and it's not the type of political message you'd normally see in a full-blown family Golden Age-style musical." Beguelin concurs. "The point that song makes is so important. Because it's a musical, the people come over to Trent's way of thinking and put their bigotry behind them. It may not always happen in real life, but it's so gratifying to see onscreen."
That's part of a larger point, too. "This movie is very aspirational," Martin concludes. "It says that the world can be a better place, we just have to decide that it will be." Adds Beguelin, "We're hopeful this movie will start good conversations. So many people would come up to me at the stage door and say, 'I'm going to come out to my mom tonight and this show is helping that conversation start.' It's a movie about seeing somebody else's point of view."
Sklar, meanwhile, is just zazzed that it's a movie. "This show has always been kind of an underdog. It was really tough getting it to Broadway. So the fact that the movie got made, and the fact that it's really good, is just wonderful. And so many people are going to be able to see this that wouldn't have otherwise had the opportunity. Just the fact that a kid could flip open their laptop and experience it is a real gift that does not often happen."