It is common knowledge that the coveted and ruthless magazine portrayed in the novel “The Devil Wears Prada” is thinly veiled Vogue, where author Lauren Weisberger briefly worked as an assistant to longtime editor Anna Wintour. . The 2006 film adaptation of Weisberger’s book grossed $326 million worldwide, largely because of its voyeuristic framing: audiences could indulge in the excess and elitism of a bible of widely revered style without actually accounting to Miranda Priestly, who plays a Wintour-esque character and degrades employees with a simple sharp stare.
In fact, the film working under Meryl Streep’s icy editor looks both nerve-wracking and alluring; watching Anne Hathaway’s Andy suffer in this hellish assistantship was only slightly less satisfying than watching her succeed. “If Weisberger’s novel focuses obsessively on every sharp word and withered look her wicked dragon-lady boss ever threw at her, the film reveals to us what’s keeping her there,” Carina Chocano wrote in the review. of the film by the Times.
A plot has changed in the years since “Prada” was founded: Legacy magazines have stopped printing issues, social media has worn out the control of the fashion industry, abusive bosses are routinely exposed and ousted, and even the best writers wear ugly sneakers to work. Producers of a “Prada” Broadway musical promised to present “an updated version of the much-loved tale…to reflect the cultural and societal changes that have [since] redefined the world of fashion.
While the world premiere in Chicago isn’t about the industry’s progress toward racial inclusion or body diversity, it does struggle with our world changing attitudes towards workplaces. Amid the death of the “boss daughter” and the ongoing big resignation, the musical’s performance of changing people’s attitudes towards their work happens to be right on trend. A toxic commitment to the office, previously glorified on screen and standardized across society, is explicitly denounced in its 2022 setting.
With music by Elton John, lyrics by Shaina Taub, and a book by Kate Wetherhead, this musical adaptation is very faithful to the beloved film, but the story setup has been completely revamped and more clearly spelled out. Portrayed by Taylor Iman JonesAndy — previously written in the book as the Ivy Leaguer and on screen as the North West alum — is now an outstanding graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, who has won prestigious writing scholarships and awards and dreams of becoming a Pulitzer Prize-winning essayist.
After being rejected by many New York media, Andy receives a call from media conglomerate Elias-Clarke for an interview as soon as possible. She assumes the job is with her dream title, City Dweller; the exhausted HR rep forgets to mention that it’s Runway, which Andy only walked to in his gynecologist’s waiting room.
Miranda (Beth Leavel) calls her a “Gen Z type-A feminist” who prefers to write for “a liberal echo chamber.” Andy, with student loan debt and rent owing, reassures Miranda that “my voice can wait” and touts his intelligence and work ethic to get the job.
Emily (Megan Masako Haley), Miranda’s dedicated first assistant and resident boss, then informs Andy that work-life balance isn’t a thing: “Eat, sleep, and breathe work, except don’t sleep and eat. not,” she sings. “It’s life or death, your day is never over.”
Unlike early media companies, Runway’s parent company is barely breaking even in 2022, thanks to declining circulation and loss of ad revenue. And although Runway is slightly in the dark, it’s still too expensive and Miranda is under pressure from the board to cut costs. (An executive’s mention of a new six-figure shot, which made him laugh on screen, is now delivered as a rebuke.)
Repositioning Runway in this way is essential: when the magazine was a cash cow, fierce ambition and constant overwork seemed like ways to succeed. But especially in the face of declining profits and prestige, these exploitative strategies can look like mismanagement of resources.
Nonetheless, Andy vows to push herself and prove she can do the job, and soon impresses Miranda so much that she accompanies her boss to Paris for Fashion Week. In fact, Andy is quite proud of herself (even if her friends and boyfriend aren’t) and expresses a self-satisfaction only seen on screen via Hathaway’s calm smiles.
“It’s more than my wardrobe, I’m becoming mine,” she sings in a spectacular dance-centric number with multiple costume changes. “So watch me shine the more I step out of my comfort zone.”
Yet Miranda’s cunning betrayal of creative director Nigel (Javier Muñoz) causes Andy to finally leave Runway. In the film, Andy makes this virtuous decision without much explanation; he “does not feel entirely triumphant. It smacks of abandonment,” Chocano wrote.
On stage, she makes the choice with the fluctuating values of today’s work in her life: her job title is not a definitive identity or a measure of intrinsic self-esteem, a concert in an institution legendary doesn’t have to compromise integrity, and that sounded on the corporate scale might not be worth sacrificing one’s sanity or overall well-being.
“Time to write a story about what my life could finally feel like / no selling my soul, no spiritual toll, no hamster wheel,” she sings. “What if, for once, I really let myself believe / that who I am means more than what I accomplish?” These are questions that many workers around the world have come to ask more openly since the start of the pandemic, which delayed the world premiere of “Prada” by two years.
Although explored only through a handful of lyrics, such moments of deep interiority make the updated adaptation more timely than ever. It would be much more effective if these themes were explored in greater depth, as these scenes only scratch the surface of ongoing conversations about labor in a capitalist system.
The entire show, directed by Anna D. Shapiro, is visibly diverse, but some critics were disappointed that more real-life topics weren’t directly addressed: “Although magazines like Vogue ultimately admitted a lack of diversity , the musical has never acknowledged that anyone abused by Miranda, who is white, is a person of color,” reads the The opinion of the New York Times. Andy was specifically rewritten as a black character, and yet that fact is surprisingly ignored after the show’s opening scenes.
Other reviewers were appalled at what was attempted on stage: “The film’s appeal was based on two basic human pleasures: seeing gorgeous humans model stunning fashion art, and watching people behave very badly in their own right. ‘in a way the viewer would never dare’, reads the The opinion of the Chicago Tribune. “It was definitely not about learning moral lessons.” As the adaptation is adjusted for future runs, it’ll be interesting to see if it becomes more overtly topical or escapist; pursuing both angles would only negate both, confusing viewers more than amusingly.
Longtime fans of the movie will understand the minor details that were tweaked throughout the musical: Andy’s Dolce & Gabbana spelling snafu is now Donatella Versace’s mispronunciation, his jaw-dropping Chanel boots are now red-bottomed Louboutins, his T- Mobile Sidekick alert is now an iPhone ringtone. Andy’s boyfriend, Nate, isn’t complaining that she missed her birthday party, but rather the start of her class in a special tasting menu; pretty acquaintance Christian Thompson catches his eye by simply lingering at his desk.
Miranda’s famous “cerulean” speech has been expanded to include beauty trends, influencers and Instagram filters, and comes delightfully delivered with an improvised Greek chorus. It’s a good idea on the show’s part to keep verbatim so many of Miranda’s most memorable lines, including “Florals? For spring? Innovative” and “By all means, advance at an icy pace, you know.” how passionate I am.
And of course, every time she sends a litany of requests to Andy, she punctuates it with her signature: “That’s it.” Luckily, the same can’t be said for this stage adaptation.