‘The Prom’ Offers a Treat With Acceptance Theme

The Prom

Few musicals these days send the audience home humming the tunes and feeling upbeat. “The Prom,” currently playing in Los Angeles at the Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre, is a rare treat – an infectious, light-hearted entertainment – attendees will remember fondly while, hopefully, embracing its acceptance theme. This “Prom” is more fun than those awkward real-life ones.

The star-studded film adaptation of “The Prom” on Netflix might dissuade watchers from attending the stage show. However, this live, big-hearted rendition features the charm and energy missing onscreen. The songs and the plot are largely the same. While the film featured A-listers, the national tour of “The Prom” that landed in L.A. has a stellar cast too.

Actors’ Egos and Outsider Angst

“The Prom” is essentially about courageously embracing one’s true self with a huge dose of selflessness thrown in. Very loosely based on a true story, the plot centers on 17-year-old Emma (Kaden Kearney), who wants to take her girlfriend to prom in small-town Indiana, despite homophobic objections from the PTA and other parents as well as taunts from other teens. Besides Emma’s travails, “The Prom” satirizes Broadway and the trappings of celebrity.

The musical starts as two Broadway stars with big egos and fading careers, Dee Dee Allen (Courtney Balan) and Barry Glickman (Patrick Wetzel), find out their latest musical was panned and will likely close on opening night. They commiserate with Trent Oliver (Bud Weber), an out-of-work actor who perpetually reminds everyone that he attended Juilliard, and Angie (Emily Borromeo), who is upset that after 20 years in the “Chicago” chorus she has never played Roxy.

The quartet reads about Emma in social media. Determined to resurrect their careers and gain publicity as celebrity activists, they head for Indiana. Their tale becomes a fish-out-of-water story, as they find their expectations of a luxury hotel, fine dining and designer duds are met with a motel, Applebee’s and K-Mart.

Musical Distinctions and Campy Characters Turn Caring

An ensemble production, ‘The Prom’ uses care in how it treats its acceptance theme. The show also treats its cast well, offering several cast members a spotlight.  Each character is fleshed out during the show. We find out that Emma’s parents did not accept her when she came out. Further, Alyssa is afraid to face her PTA-president mother and tell her she would be Emma’s date. Each of the celebs uses their narcissism as a costume to cover up their wounds from life, but eventually shows they really do care.

Emma and each member of the show biz quartet strut their stuff in a musical number or two. Cleverly, “The Prom’s” creators keep the songs featuring Emma and her girlfriend Alyssa (Kalyn West) simple and straightforward. By contrast, the celebrities’ numbers are dramatic and attention-seeking.

  • Emma and Alyssa overcome obstacles to make their duet-sung desire to “Dance with You” come true. Emma’s solo numbers “Just Breathe”, and “Unruly Heart” resonate with the audience with their expressions of angst about the situation. Alyssa’s solo in “The Prom” outlines the pressure she feels to be perfect and how unhappy she is with her life. Kearney gets the audience’s attention early with the opening line of “Just Breathe:” “Note to self, don’t be gay in Indiana.” Kearney’s calm, quiet delivery is lovely, and her ability to hold notes admirable.
  • Brassy, self-absorbed Dee Dee is incessantly selfish and a hoot. In “It’s Not About Me,” she tries to empathize withThe Prom Emma’s plight and bring herself (and roles she’s played) up with every stanza. She catches the eye of the school principal, Mr. Hawkins (Sinclar Mitchell), who is a long-time fan, and encourages Dee Dee to be selfless in helping Emma. Balan shines in the role, particularly in numbers like “The Lady’s Improving.”
  • Meanwhile, Barry’s campy behavior with his peers turns into an earnest desire to help Emma achieve her dreams. He encourages her to “treat the whole world like your runway” and show the other students some attitude. Barry also introduces one line that is sure to be in the audience’s heads after the show: “One thing’s universal; Life’s no dress rehearsal.”
  • Angie also commiserates and coaches Emma about displaying confidence and “Zazz” to succeed. When Emma says her hands are shaking, Angie lights up and says, “Turn them into jazz hands.” Borromeo makes the character quirky but charming.
  • Trent is initially goofy and annoying. However, when he meets up with some of Emma’s homophobic, hypocritical “religious” classmates, he teaches (and sings to) them about the real contents of the Bible. After all, if they do spurn Emma, they are clearly not following the “Love Thy Neighbor” scriptures. His turn in the spotlight morphs into a fun dance number.

Talented Team

“The Prom’s” book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin is deceptively smart and at times over the top. While acceptance is a paramount theme, Martin, Beguelin and composer Matthew Sklar throw in lots of references to Broadway shows and tongue-in-cheek humor. At the Ahmanson, the production was directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, who puts the chorus through their paces with high-energy dance numbers.

A treat, ‘The Prom’ will continue to offer its acceptance theme at the Ahmanson Theatre through Sep. 11. The national tour then moves through Kansas City, MO; Bloomington, IN; and Buffalo, NY.

Written by Dyanne Weiss

Sources:

Performance Aug. 10, 2022

Center Theatre Group

Playbill: The Prom

“The Prom,” the film on Netflix

 

L-R:  Balan, Wetzel, Weber and Borromeo in “The Prom” at the Ahmanson Theatre through Sept. 11, 2022.  (inset) Kearney as Emma. Photos by Deen van Meer, courtesy Center Theatre Group/the Ahmanson Theatre

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