Image Source: Everett Collection
There's a fine line when it comes to straight actors playing LGBTQ+ roles. When it's an important public or historical figure, there's no question they should be portrayed by someone from the LGBTQ+ community. When it's a fictional role like Barry Glickman from The Prom, there's more of a gray area. That said, James Corden should not have been cast as Barry in Netflix's adaptation of the Broadway musical due to his over-the-top and, at times, offensive portrayal.
While The Prom features a heartwarming story about a girl just wanting to take her girlfriend to prom with the help of a few down-and-out Broadway actors, Corden's casting taints the message it's trying to say.
The issue with Corden's casting isn't his talent level; he's a Tony Award-winning actor who can sing and act. The issue is that Corden takes the role of Barry, who is a flamboyant and openly gay Broadway actor who deals with unresolved personal issues during the course of the movie, and plays him in such a stereotypical manner that it's hard to focus on anything else. While The Prom features a heartwarming story about a girl just wanting to take her girlfriend to prom with the help of a few down-and-out Broadway actors, Corden's casting taints the message it's trying to send.
It's not like Ryan Murphy and casting didn't know what they were doing, particularly when they took the time and effort to cast young queer actresses like Ariana DeBose and Jo Ellen Pellman in the roles of Alyssa Greene and Emma Nolan. Hell, The Prom also stars openly gay Broadway actors Andrew Rannells and Kevin Chamberlin. Which begs the question, what was the point of James Corden? It's not like they needed the star power when the cast is stacked with the likes of Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and Kerry Washington.
Image Source: Netflix
I can't say I didn't enjoy The Prom, because I did. I couldn't help but sing along with each bubbly number, and even a few of Corden's lines made me laugh. However, I just couldn't see how Chamberlin (pictured above) could play the role of publicist to the stars Sheldon Saperstein when a short look over his résumé proves he would've been more than able to do the Barry role justice. Other openly gay actors who would've been a better fit than Corden include Nathan Lane, Tituss Burgess, and the original Barry from the Broadway production, Brooks Ashmanskas. Hell, swapping Rannells and Corden would've given the role a little more depth, even if the characterization would've been off.
Corden's portrayal reduces Barry to a one-dimensional shadow of this complicated character.
The most egregious parts of Corden's portrayal are the mannerisms and vocal affectations he puts into place to get across that his character Barry is gay. When trying to portray Barry's tragic backstory, which involves leaving home before his parents could kick him out, there's a disconnect. As a straight, white, cisgender male, Corden hasn't experienced the trauma that Barry would've gone through. I get that the point of acting is that you don't necessarily have to have experienced everything your character has, but treating Barry as a stereotype makes his role lose the magic that Ashmanskas brought to life with the stage show. "There are layers to this character. It's really refreshing, honestly," Ashmanskas previously told Backstage. Yet Corden's portrayal reduces Barry to a one-dimensional shadow of this complicated character.
As said in The Prom, Barry is as "gay as a bucket of wigs," so flamboyance in the role was necessary. Yet there's an art to capturing the essence without being offensive that's harder for straight actors to find; think Nathan Lane as Albert Goldman from The Birdcage vs. Hank Azaria as Agador Spartacus in the same film. Years later, only one performance holds up, and it isn't Azaria's. Could Corden have been in this movie and not been offensive? Absolutely; he just needed to put more effort into the characterization of Barry beyond the fact he is "flamboyantly gay."