Theater Review: THE PROM (North American Tour)

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by Tony Frankel on August 11, 2022

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours

PROM-COM

Dust off the Mylar balloons and wrist corsages and head over to The Ahmanson Theatre, where The Prom just landed as part of its national tour. Forget smelly gymnasiums or dated themes, as this prom is full of high-energy dance numbers, colorful characters, theatrical in-jokes and a litany of Broadway-style tunes that divert even as they refuse to stay knocking around in your head. Painted with very broad strokes, there are Afterschool Special moments about inclusivity and the importance of arts education sandwiched between laughs. Oh, and The Prom on stage is far far better than the dismal 2020 Netflix filmed adaptation with Meryl Streep.

While not the greatest musical, The Prom is certainly a night of fun. With tolerance themes at its heart, this show thankfully veers from shoving a dry political agenda down an unsuspecting audience member’s throat. In Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin‘s book, the jokes, of which there are many, pull their punches with equal opportunity. The surface charms of The Prom far outweigh any of the story and score’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.

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 (a perfectly cast, outrageously good 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 is exasperated and near the end of her rope.

Concurrently, a new musical makes its Broadway debut. The fictional Eleanor! The Eleanor Roosevelt Story stars (fictional) two-time Tony-winner Dee Dee Allen (fabulous old-fashioned Broadway belter broad Courtney Balan) and (fictional) Drama Desk Award winner Barry Glickman (a scene-stealing, character-rich Patrick Wetzel). Well, after a series of 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 (toothy Bud Weber) and lifelong chorus girl who oddly has no last name. Angie (the fantastically flexible Emily Borromeo). a lifelong Bob Fosse aficionado who refuses to play second fiddle to this week’s Chicago Roxie Hart casting stunt, Tina Louise (for those who don’t know, Ms. Louise, the last surviving member of Gilligan’s Island actually is a musical comedy actress). 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. Alyssa Green (a sweet Kalyn West) is the over-achieving head of the Student Council as well as, GASP! the closeted secret girlfriend of Emma. Her mother, played with moustache-twirling vigor by Ashanti J’Aria, is a villainous Marjorie Taylor Greene type, your basic manipulative, bigoted and homophobic monster of a mother and human, and who also happens to be the President of the PTA. Shavey Brown plays the flamboyant and flappable Broadway Press Agent, but you gotta take it with a grain of salt that a black guy is named Sheldon Saperstein. Lastly Sinclair Mitchel plays Mr. Hawkins, the noble High School Principal and potential paramour for Dee Dee. Their date at “Apples and Bees” is adorable.

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; there’s even a monster truck rally featuring a Broadway sing-a-long to keep 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.

Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon) directs with fervent energy and his athletic choreography — boyband meets Bring It On: The Musical — impresses and exhausts. The fresh-faced ensemble earns kudos for their collective powerful synchronized hip-hop dance moves. Composer Matthew Sklar and lyricist Beguelin create some fun numbers “Changing Lives”, “It’s Not About Me”, “Zazz” and a ballad “Dance With You”. Most of Scott Pask’s scenic design is run-of-the-mill backdrops (see the photo below and prepare yourself to ask, Wait a minute, this is a $30,000 prom?). For the prom, Ann Roth and Matthew Pachtman’s costuming — a series of Easter candy pastel mini-baby doll dresses as prom couture and young men’s quirky suits — is teen magazine accurate. In the end, sets and costumes looking like an actual high school production only adds to the allure of this fluffy concoction.

photos by Deen van Meer

The Prom
national tour reviewed at The Ahmanson in Los Angeles
ends in. L.A. on September 11, 2022
tour continues
for dates and cities, visit The Prom

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