Megan Masako Haley from THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA Pre-Broadway Essay
Andy Sachs, Emily Charlton, and of course THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA’s infamous Miranda Priestly are back after Lauren Weisberger’s 2003 novel and 2006 cult film… but this time these iconic characters take the stage in an all-new musical with music by Elton John, lyrics by Shaina Taub, book by Kate Wetherhead, and direction by Anna Shapiro (who many Chicago audiences know from her time at the Steppenwolf Theater Company). Megan Masako Haley takes on the role of Emily. I interviewed Megan early in the preview period for the show’s Chicago pre-Broadway trial about her experience bringing the character to life and the creative process for this new musical.
Tell me about the experience of bringing a brand new musical to life. How was it to be involved in this project during rehearsals and now in previews?
The movie is just a big part of my early teenage years and so it was always a favorite and so getting to work on the show, playing the role of Emily who is like the archetype of a person that we all know. I just feel like he’s an archetype of someone we know, who has become such a beloved classic character. I’ve never had the opportunity to create something like this from scratch before, so it was just fun and exciting, a dream come true.
Between the role of Gretchen Wieners in the national tour of MEAN GIRLS and the role of Emily Charlton in THE DEVIL Wears Prada, you embody two emblematic characters of cinema. How do you appropriate the role of Emily, while bringing elements that moviegoers will recognize?
I think the first thing I have to shout out is the directors of both projects. Anna Shapiro for THE DEVIL Wears Prada never made me feel like I couldn’t fully devote myself to Emily. Like I said, the type of person is very familiar, and I think the audience will instantly recognize who Emily is, but I’ve been given a lot of artistic license to bring parts of myself and update her up. ‘in 2022.
Many of the cultural conversations we have around fashion and body image and how different body types are portrayed in media have evolved since the film was released in 2006. Will we see some of those changes reflected now in the musical, and how did that play into the creative process?
I think we have an incredible creative team made up of mostly women, which I think was really, really important in bringing this story up to 2022. [We’re making] sure this is the story of a young woman and to center that and take into account where we are politically in 2022 without crushing the fact that sometimes the fashion industry is still mean now, and it’s not something we’re going to gloss over. We will face it. But I also think, without revealing too much, [the creative team has] does a smart job at updating. Our writer Kate Wetherhead is so smart. The musical takes on the jokes that when you watch the movie hit differently now.
Anna Shapiro is well known in Chicago due to her long history with Steppenwolf and her previous role as artistic director of Steppenwolf. What is it like working with her as a director?
Even to trace back to the actors in the audition process over the past two and a half years, we have sent videos into the void to audition. But walking into the room for the first in-person audition and asking him to give grades is honestly when I was like, ‘Oh, I want this job. I need to get this job. with this woman.” She is such an insightful and thoughtful director. She’s amazing at getting the most out of a company of people…I think this is my first time working with a female director, which is crazy. There’s just something really different and beautiful about it. I worked with a lot of female associate directors, [but this is the first time I’ve worked with a female lead director].
This show has quite a renowned writing team between Elton John as composer, Kate Wetherhead as book writer, and Shaina Taub as lyricist. How was it working with the editorial staff of this show?
Sometimes I still have to pinch myself. I can’t believe Elton John knows who I am. It’s a great thing to be able to participate in this project. They have all been working there for several years. I just started with this most recent rehearsal process for this production. And to see where it was already on the first day, which I found so fantastic. The amount of tuning that has happened since late May has been incredible to watch. That’s the beauty of doing something new. If something isn’t working, we simply change it. There is nothing fixed that we cannot change.
Now that you’re in the preview period, can you tell me a bit more about how you think the series will evolve now that it’s in front of the public?
It was crazy that first night just remembering that people will laugh at the lines. Doing those calculations of “Oh, I have to make sure I give the audience a second to laugh so they hear the next line so they can laugh again.” It’s about listening to the other, listening to our other stage partner, which is the audience. We are still in rehearsals during the day. I’ve never done a project as new as this, so it’s exciting to see what changes happen that night.
What techniques do you use to memorize lines and lyrics, especially with a new show like this where the material could very well change daily throughout the previews?
I actually can’t remember who told me this, but there’s this technique where you write the first letter of each word in a big Sharpie marker and then read that as you read the lines . I can memorize a lot of things in about 15 minutes. If there are young theater artists, it’s actually very easy. It’s one that I can’t believe anyone taught me until I was five years into my career.
What can audiences expect from THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA? Can you tell me more about what was preserved from the original film and what was developed or added for the musical?
Above all, the beloved characters have been preserved. Their essences are all there. You’ll recognize everyone you know from the movie. I think the audience will love the costume design. Arianne Phillips, our costume designer, is a genius. The detail of every design, for every main character, every member of the ensemble, has been done with so much care…I think people are going to love that part.
See Megan Masako Haley as Emily Charlton on Broadway in Chicago in the pre-Broadway preview of THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA through August 21, 2022 at the James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 West Randolph Street.