Theater Review: THE PROM (North American Tour)

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by Stephen Best on April 20, 2022

in Theater-Chicago,Tours


Dust off the Mylar balloons and wrist corsages Chicago, you only have one week to attend The Prom as part of its national tour. No smelly gymnasium or dated themes required, this prom is full of high energy dance numbers and a litany of toe-tapping tunes that will stay knocking around your head long after leaving the theater. Painted with very broad strokes and including dozens of theatrical in-jokes at the expense of Wicked, Chicago, Dear Evan Hansen, Carrie, Godspell, and so many others, there are some legitimate teaching moments about inclusivity and the importance of arts education sandwiched between laughs.

This silly yet effective musical comedy is loosely based on a true story. Back in 2010, a high school student in Mississippi intended to go to her prom, dressed in a tuxedo with her girlfriend on her arm. As a result, the school board overreacted, banning her from attending. When this decision was challenged in court, the response was banning the prom altogether. To add insult to injury, the parents of the other students quietly organized a “secret prom” to avoid media attention. When that spectacularly backfired, in stepped a team of celebrities to help. Members of the band Green Day, N*SYNC’s Lance Bass, Cat Cora and more rallied together via social media to sponsored a “Second-Chance” prom where all could attend with no homophobic backlash. Tweaking the story a bit, The Prom is about a quartet of Broadway performers seeking much needed career rehab who elect to travel to conservative Edgewater, Indiana to aid a lesbian student banned from attending her high school prom with her girlfriend. Art imitating life, as it were.

The true crux of the story focuses on high school student Emma (Kaden Kearney) who has unintentionally created a maelstrom of controversy. Emma simply wants to attend the prom with her girlfriend. Living in conservative Indiana, Emma is immediately banned from the dance. Bullied by classmates, abandoned by parents and vilified by both the surrounding community and the PTA, Emma was exasperated and near the end of her rope. At the same time a new musical is making its debut on Broadway. The fictional Eleanor! The Eleanor Roosevelt Story stars (fictional) two-time Tony Award winner Dee Dee Allen (a fabulous Courtney Balan) and (fictional) Drama Desk Award winner Barry Glickman (a scene-stealing Patrick Wetzel). Well, after a series of quick & horrible reviews, opening night quickly turns into closing night. The dynamic duo of self-absorbed narcissists quickly joined by “esteemed” Julliard graduate and cater waiter Trent Oliver (Bud Weber) and lifelong chorus girl Angie Dickensen (the fantastically flexible Emily Borromeo) a lifelong Bob Fosse aficionado who will no longer play second fiddle to this week’s Chicago Roxie Hart stunt cast, Tina Louise of Gilligan’s Island fame. Over cocktails, the four read about Emma’s dilemma on Twitter and decide only they can help her, change the world and, most importantly to them, resuscitate their tarnished images in one fail swoop.

The remaining cast all come into play once this over-the-top quartet arrives in Indiana. Sweet Alyssa Green (Kalyn West) is the over-achieving head of the Student Council as well as, GASP! the closeted secret girlfriend of Emma. Her mother, a villainous Marjorie Taylor Greene type, your basic manipulative, bigoted and homophobic monster of a mother and human, also happens to be the President of the PTA, played with moustache twirling vigor by Ashanti J’Aria. Shavey Brown is the flamboyant and flappable Sheldon Saperstein, the Broadway Press Agent and lastly Sinclair Mitchel as Mr. Hawkins, the noble High School Principal and potential paramour for Balan’s Dee Dee. Their date at “Apples and Bees” will charm all.

By the show’s conclusion, secrets are revealed, dreams are crushed and revived, a battle of wits is played out between the State’s attorney, principal & PTA, and a monster truck rally featuring a Broadway sing-a-long keeps the pace chugging. Finally, Emma, borrowing a page right out of Dear Evan Hansen, uploads a video explaining her position and the fallout is soon followed in song. Of course the video goes viral, connecting with a generation of ostracized peers, and a new inclusive prom for all the queer kids across the state is planned. With a title like The Promthere just has to be a happy ending.

The Prom is directed and choreographed with fervent energy by Tony Award winner Casey NicholawThe athletic choreography will impress and exhaust. A little bit boyband meets Bring It On: The Musicalthe fresh-faced ensemble earns kudos for their collective powerful synchronized hip-hop dance moves. Original music written by Matthew Skyler with lyrics by Chad Beguelin result in a series of catchy tunes including “Changing Lives”, “It’s Not About Me”, “Dance With You”, “Zazz” and “It’s Time To Dance”. Most of Scott Pask’s scenic design was run-of-the-mill backdrops, totally eclipsed by the grandeur of neighboring shows, Moulin Rouge and Six, currently knocking audiences out just down the street. Ann Roth and Matthew Pachtman’s costuming, a series of Easter candy pastel mini-baby doll dresses as prom couture and young men’s plaid suits, is teen magazine accurate.

While not the greatest musical currently playing in town, The Prom is certainly a night of fun. With tolerance themes at its heart, this isn’t a show with a dry political agenda pushed down an unsuspecting  audience member’s throat. The jokes, of which there are many, pulls their punches with equal opportunity. The surface charms of The Prom far outweigh any of the story’s shortcomings. I challenge anyone to not be smiling by the show’s final explosive dance number. Staying through the energetic curtain call is an absolute must.

photos by Deen van Meer

The Prom
national tour, Broadway In Chicago
ends at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre on April 24, 2022
tour continues
for dates and cities, visit The Prom

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