By: Paulanne Simmons
November 22, 2018: The old-fashioned musical has finally met a contemporary theme. Throw in a bit of theater satire and you have The Prom, which has landed on Broadway with a book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin, music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Beguelin.
The Prom is set in Indiana, in a small town apparently unaware that lesbians and gays have finally achieved not only everyday equality, but also the right to marry their beloved. So when Emma (Caitlin Kinnunen) announces she wants to take her girlfriend, Alyssa (Isabelle McCalla), to the prom, the mothers of the PTA, led by Mrs. Greene (Courtenay Collins), nix the idea immediately.
The charming and agreeable principle, Mr. Hawkins (Michael Potts), is handling the situation wisely and effectively until a band of Broadway veterans, trying to prove to snarky reviewers they aren’t quite as narcissistic as they have been labelled, take Emma on as their cause, even though she is far from eager for their help.
Emma’s saviors include Barry Glickman (Brooks Ashmanskas) and Dee Dee Allen (on Dec. 18 played by Beth Leavel’s terrific understudy, Kate Marilley), who have just received devastating reviews for “Eleanor! The Eleanor Roosevelt Musical,” and their friends Angie (Angie Schworer), a chorine whose career got stuck in “Chicago,” and Trent Oliver (Christopher Sieber), a waiter/actor who can’t stop reminding people he once went to Juilliard and can’t stop people from reminding him he was featured in a 90s sit-com called “Talk to the Hand.”
As the old saying goes, “With friends like these….” However, if these friends are intrusive and bugling, they sure do know how to sing and dance. And Sklar and Beguelin have provided them with funny and upbeat songs like “Changing Lives,” “It’s Not About Me,” and “The Acceptance Song.”
While Emma’s supporters are organizing and protesting, all she wants is expressed in an eloquent ballad, “Dance with You.” But when Emma’s courage fails her, Angie, gives her a boost with “Zazz,” a brilliant song and dance number inspired by “All that Jazz.”
Emma and Alyssa’s fellow-students seem to be homophobic in a non-specific way. However, choreographer (and director) Casey Nicholaw gives them energetic dance numbers inflected with hip hop tunes and moves.
There are times when The Prom seems just about ready to sink into sentimental soppiness but then takes a nice little side step that brings us back to soberl (and often very funny) reality. When Mrs. Greene asks the newcomers who they are, Trent answers, “We’re liberal democrats from Broadway!” Later on Angie tells Emma a moving and supportive story about the time a young understudy had to pluck up her courage to play Roxie Hart. Emma asks, “And that girl was you?” and Angie replies indignantly, “How fucking old do you think I am?”
Cynical naysayers and party poops may call The Prom formulaic and predictable. That may be true, but it’s also such overwhelming fun most people won’t care. At a time when creative genius often means deciding which film to rip off, a musical conceived by a writer’s imagination is worth our attention and our applause.
The Prom is at Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48 Street.