photo from Nathan Johnson
McKenzi Thi Murphy
Billed as “Broadway’s musical comedy, with issues,” The Prom is a tongue-in-cheek laugh-riot touting social issues in a campy yet poignant way. This new musical, based on an original concept by Jack Viertel, features has-been Broadway divas, a small Indiana town clinging to old-fashioned ideals, and a teenaged lesbian who just wants to go to prom. The PTA clashes with these eccentric New Yorkers, and of course, hilarity ensues.
The Prom stars Beth Leavel and Brooks Ashmanskas in the roles of the famed Broadway legends Dee Dee Allen and Barry Glickman who have recently been vilified as unlikable and narcissistic in a review of their portrayals of the Roosevelts in an Elenore Roosevelt musical. Ashmanskas’ character is fabulously effeminate and gay without coming off as a tired stereotype. His heartbreak at having not gone to his own prom turns into abject glee at the prospect of helping one little lesbian go to hers. Leavel’s Dee Dee Allen is every bit the dominating diva, singing every line with an over-the-top zeal that will send the audience into hysterics. With the help of an admiring high school principal, she learns the importance of selfless acts.
The story focuses around Emma (played by Caitlin Kinnunen), a small-town lesbian who does not want to be an activist. She just wants to go to prom with her in-the-closet girlfriend, and made the mistake of being “gay in Indiana.” Rather than allowing this, the PTA cancels the prom, but after the state intervenes – and the Broadway divas petrify the town with their glitz and glam – the students and parents conspire to create the perfect solution. Emma can have her inclusive prom. Alone.
Rounding out the cast, Christopher Sieber plays Trent, an unsuccessful actor who only ever talks about his education at Juilliard (a nod to Patti LuPone, perhaps?) Angie Schworer plays Angie Dickinson, a leggy chorus girl who hasn’t played Roxie Hart in twenty years and just wants a chance in the spotlight. Mr. Hawkins, played by Michael Potts, is a long-suffering principal just glad not to have to deal with meth-addled students. Isabelle McCalla and Courtenay Collins play mother-and-daughter Alyssa and Mrs. Greene. Alyssa is Emma’s closeted girlfriend who suffers under the care of a helicopter parent, and her mother is the president of the homophobic PTA. You can imagine how well that all works out.
A Broadway musical about activism runs the danger of being too preachy or condescending in their political message, but The Prom pulls it off splendidly. Criticizing activism for activism’s sake, the audience is shown social causes need not always be fought with rallies, signs, and yelling. That sometimes the victims of bigotry can stand on their own with just a guitar, a laptop camera, and a YouTube video that goes viral.
The closed-minded townsfolk are shown to be real people, not mindless machines of hate. There is an entire song about the hypocrisies of the Bible that nevertheless doesn’t challenge or criticize the religion and praises God’s ultimate message: love thy neighbor. The kids of the town realize Emma’s not so different after all.
The Prom is a true nod to the campy “zazz” of Broadway with musical theatre references throughout. Making its premier at The Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, GA, the musical opened for previews on Oct. 23. Opening night is Thursday, Nov. 15.