The Prom

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Photo: Dan van Meer Review
In a Broadway season that’s already included an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, an argumentative homophobic Jewish mother and a ruthlessly murdered ape, what’s so bad about feeling good? And feeling good is the aim of the splashy yet heartfelt new musical “The Prom,” now at the Longacre Theatre. Luckily for those who need a pick-me-up, the show hits its target with frequent accuracy.

Of course, one expects nothing less from its top-tier creative team. As he’s proved for years, choreographer-director Casey Nicholaw knows how to fill a stage with inventive dance numbers better than anyone else currently working on Broadway, while the script by Tony Award winner Bob Martin (“The Drowsy Chaperone”) and Chad Beguelin is full of laugh-out-loud jokes, irreverent wit and so many “inside” theater references that the Playbill should come with a glossary.

And then there’s Matthew Sklar and Beguelin’s often beguiling score, which serves up a couple of truly show-stopping numbers along with a few very lovely ballads for our heroine, spunky teenaged lesbian Emma (a superb Caitlin Kinnunen) who wants nothing more than to take her sweet if closeted girlfriend Alyssa (a lovely Isabella McCalla) to their Indiana high school prom.

Therein lies the rub: Alyssa’s mother (Courtenay Collins, doing her best with a one-dimensional role) has convinced the local PTA to cancel the event – in part, because she suspects her daughter’s sexual orientation. Kindly school principal Mr. Hawkins (the always excellent Michael Potts) is on the case, but even his best-laid plans eventually get thwarted. Who will come to Emma’s rescue?

Believe it or not, “The Prom”’ has its own unlikely Fantastic Four: flamboyant Broadway actor Barry Glickman (the delicious Brooks Ashmanskas, who can literally make you laugh and cry); Tony-winning diva Dee Dee Allen (the ever-fantastic Beth Leavel, doing her level best to sing big, act big, be big, but yet never go completely over the top); Trent Oliver (a wonderful Christopher Sieber), a Juilliard-trained-actor, former sitcom star, current waiter and star of a non-Equity tour of “Godspell” whose major talents are preening and pontificating; and Angie (the lusciously leggy Angie Schworer), a jazzy, sassy chorine with a heart of gold and a soul of brass.

The quartet’s initial reasons to coming to the Midwest aren’t purely altruistic: Barry and Dee Dee are looking for redemption after their show about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt closes on opening night after a pan from “The New York Times” that’s even harsher than the one the real paper of record just gave “King Kong.” But ultimately, even the remarkably self-absorbed Dee Dee realizes that giving is better than receiving and helping another person can be its own reward. And, of course, Emma doesn’t really need saving: she proves to be the real superhero of her own story!

To be completely fair, I won’t say “The Prom” is Nicholaw’s best work; you can head one block north to “The Book of Mormon” to see his true genius in action. In fact, the show seems to be a bit of a companion piece to his latest hit, “Mean Girls” (which shares the same set designer, the brilliant Scott Pask), and comes complete with its own mean girls (and boys) who learn the error of their ways.

Still, make no mistake: whether your own high school experience was heavenly or hellish, you won’t regret going to this Prom. And better yet, you don’t need to wear a brown velvet tuxedo or mint green gown to the theater to take part. (River Dell class of 1978, you know what I’m talking about!)
By Brian Scott Lipton

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Open/Close Dates
Opening 11/15/2018
Closing 8/11/2019

Theatre Info
Longacre Theatre
220 West 48th Street
New York, NY 10036