Composer Matthew Sklar and Scribe Bob Martin on Building a Prom Movie for the Masses
Oh, by gosh, by golly, it’s time for mistletoe and holly, but if you turn to Netflix starting on December 11, it’s also time for promposals and corsages. That’s because director/producer Ryan Murphy’s faithful screen adaptation of Broadway’s The Prom is being released on the streaming service. Both the hit show and movie were written by the longtime songwriting team of composer Matthew Sklar and lyricist/librettist Chad Beguelin along with Broadway vet Bob Martin. Toplined by heavy hitters Meryl Streep, James Corden and Nicole Kidman, the movie musical follows self-obsessed Broadway stars as they shake up a small Indiana town by rallying behind a teen who just wants to attend prom with her girlfriend. Broadway.com’s Beth Stevens caught up with Sklar and Martin about making the film as inclusive as its message.
Martin said the Broadway creators were blown away the first time they got to see an early cut of the film. “We were shocked at how close it is to the original show,” he said. “We were thrilled and crying all the way through. It’s absurd seeing your name in the vicinity of Meryl Streep’s name [in the credits].” He called the process, and especially Murphy, “surprisingly respectful” of the original material.
Sklar spent two months in Los Angeles as the movie was being made late last year. “I’m not missing this. I need to see this in person,” he said of the opportunity to watch the movie-making unfold. The composer was especially thrilled that all of the songs in the original show made it into the screen version. “Every song is in there in some way, and most of them are intact,” he said. “Every song is in the original Broadway key, except for ‘We Look to You,’ which actually went up for Keegan-Michael Key.
“He grew up gay in Indiana and faced a lot of the same problems [the character of] Emma faced,” Sklar said about Murphy’s attraction to the show. What was important to Murphy and the writing team was making Netflix viewers feel included in the story, even if it meant losing a few insider Broadway jokes along the way. “There are a couple of lines I miss because I’m a comedian and I like my jokes,” Martin said, but he feels Murphy did the right thing. “By making these adjustments, he’s going to get a larger audience and that is the most important thing. With the movie, more people will see it on the first day it’s streamed than saw the entire [Broadway] run. This message and these conversations will take place in homes all over the world.”
“The LGBTQ+ youth you see in the film’s inclusive prom had not seen the set before rolling. The audience gets to experience their awe. Those reactions are genuine,” Sklar said and added that “Wear Your Crown,” the pop song he wrote with Beguelin and frequent Murphy collaborators Adam Anders and Peer Astrom, “was really fun to write and allows you to sit in the feeling of joy that you have with ‘It’s Time to Dance’ for another three minutes. You feel like you’re in the middle of the greatest party of all time.”
Both creators said watching the film made them emotional, but it’s not just the story of hope that got to them. “There are so many moments that make me long to get back to the theater, and we kind of get to be with this film,” Sklar said. “It’s something we can all use right now.”