The musical ‘Devil Wears Prada’ arrives to great fanfare for a world premiere in Chicago

The stage adaptation of “The Devil Wears Prada” had a lot of success in 2019 – songs from an esteemed songwriting team, an announced director, a Tony Award winner as a co-lead, superb costumes haute couture, as well as an integrated audience of hardcore fans of the popular film and the novel on which it is based.

But like many in the theater world over the past three years, the highly anticipated musical’s debut, receiving its world premiere in Chicago (previewing from Tuesday), has been repeatedly put on hold due to the pandemic. Yet, at the height of it all, the work never stopped, says the show’s book author Kate Wetherhead.

“Emotionally, it impacted everyone,” she admitted. “But I think the work itself has benefited from the extra time by forcing us all to slow down. It was creatively luxurious because we got to spend time with the story, spend time with the songs, and because there was no ticking, there was a flexibility and a additional malleability in the process.

Lauren Weisberger’s novel “The Devil Wears Prada” was inspired by her real-life experiences as an assistant to Anna Wintour, the demanding editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine. The following 2006 film starred Anne Hathaway as journalism graduate Andy Sachs and Meryl Streep as the demanding and powerful editor of Runway magazine Miranda Priestly, a perfectly cast role, which earned the legendary actress a nomination. at the Oscars.

The musical, directed by Anna D. Shapiro, stars Broadway veteran Beth Leavel as Miranda and Taylor Iman Jones as Andy. The songs are the work of pop music icon Elton John (music) and singer-songwriter Shaina Taub (lyrics), with haute couture costume design by Oscar-nominated Arianne Phillips.

Working on the musical adaptation was new business for Wetherhead, who is making her Broadway book-writing debut, and for director and Steppenwolf Theater ensemble member Shapiro, who has a long list of Broadway credits ( more recently the transfer of Steppenwolf “The Minutes” ) but not one of them a musical.

Anna D. Shapiro conducts “The Devil Wears Prada: The Musical,” which had its world premiere in Chicago at the James M. Nederlander Theater in the Loop.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“Well, I’ve come to realize that a musical is like doing ten plays at the same time while the building is on fire, but in a good way,” Shapiro laughs. “It’s exciting.”

As for Wetherhead, she “absolutely loved the process. It’s so collaborative and it’s the kind of problem-solving that I really enjoy – making the dialogue as economical and elegant as possible as you go from song to song.

A challenge for the creative team was to update the relevance of this story of a young woman finding her voice in today’s world.

For example, in these waking times with workplace culture under the microscope, there is the issue of the “mean boss.” When asked if any adjustments had been made to “tone down” Miranda’s fearsome personality, Shapiro replied that they didn’t have to do much.

“The truth is, even in the really big movement of change happening around us, we all know there are still impossible patterns out there,” Shapiro says. “Miranda is in no way toned down. She’s impossible, she’s magnetic, she’s the worst and the best at what she does. She has to stay complex and charismatic or you’re not invested in Andy.

Taylor Iman Jones (center), who plays Andy in

Taylor Iman Jones (center), who plays Andy in ‘The Devil Wears Prada: The Musical’, rehearses with the and the cast in New York.

Shapiro says she knew she needed an actress who “could hold an entire stage of Broadway just by standing there. Miranda is very restrained, and you suddenly can’t because she’s in a musical. make her someone who twirls and does jazz hands.

The challenge was to find an actor who “knows his power without doing much”. Shapiro found that quality in Leavel who won a Tony for her performance in “The Drowsy Chaperone” and was recently nominated for her role in “The Prom.” (In a bit of crazy serendipity, Leavel stars as the movie Streep in the musical, while Streep played the character of Leavel in the movie version of “The Prom.”)

Leavel says she relishes the challenge of representing Miranda.

“I’m kind of the antithesis of Miranda Priestly. I’m really nice and funny and a good listener. So, it’s fun to put on the shoes of someone else who is the exact opposite of you and live in their world and their energy.

“I think the work itself has benefited from the extra time [caused by pandemic shutdowns] forcing us all to slow down. It was creatively luxurious because we got to spend time with the story, spend time with the songs,” says Kate Wetherhead, screenwriter for “The Devil Wears Prada: The Musical.”

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

As for the changes in Andy’s portrayal, Jones, who is black, says she “doesn’t do an Anne Hathaway impression.” Instead, she says, “Andy is shot from the perspective of a new young black woman, which is really cool. What I like about her is that she’s brave, she’s a fighter, she’s ambitious, she’s brave but she also has flaws.

Costume designer Arianne Phillips has created what promises to be a feast of high fashion, a staple of the story. “It’s a lot of eye candy,” promises Wetherhead.

Jones adds, “Arianne celebrates fashion as art, she celebrates fashion as expression, she celebrates what fashion means in 2022 as representation.”

Regarding the musical’s score, Elton John told People magazine that the songs would be “modern” and that he “enjoyed writing every single one of them”. This isn’t his first foray into musical theatre, having written music for “Billy Elliot the Musical”, “The Lion King” and “Aida”.

Director Anna D. Shapiro (center) rehearses the casting for

Director Anna D. Shapiro (center) rehearses the casting for “The Devil Wears Prada: The Musical” in New York earlier this year.

John and lyricist Shaina Taub have a shared love of musical theater and contemporary music, and they’ve created a score filled with pop melodies and ballads that Shapiro says “tilt into incredible, moving emotional truths.”

After the Chicago run, the creative team will continue to polish the show before it begins its scheduled February run on Broadway. Shapiro is sure she will learn from her hometown audience.

“It’s an audience I trust. I love sitting in previews and hearing and feeling what works and what doesn’t. It feels like a partnership. After all this time working on the series, I’m really ready to hear the answer.

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