NYTG at the Opening Night of The Prom on Broadway
The Prom is bringing a whole lot of all-inclusive "zazz" to the Great White Way...
The heavens opened over New York City yesterday and although the snow was falling by the bucketload, the reception for The Prom - Broadway's latest musical comedy - was anything but frosty! The New York Theatre Guide was invited to celebrate with the cast, creative team and special guests at the Longacre Theatre and the after-party at Copacabana, where we also caught up with the show's director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw - a Tony Award winner, who is also currently represented on Broadway by Mean Girls, in London's West End by Dreamgirls, and on both sides of the Atlantic with hit productions of The Book of Mormon and Disney's Aladdin.
Like Mr. Nicholaw, we all remember our Prom experiences for better or for worse: "Oh, I went to about 20 proms because I was the safe gay date," he tells me. "They were all wonderful! All 20 of them!"
And alas, despite the number of those "coming of age" celebrations in his hometown of San Diego, he explains to me how there wasn't a single same-sex couple to be found at any of them: "That’s actually what’s so touching about this show and what’s so touching about Brooks Ashmanskas' character," he posits. "He was never able to go to his Prom. None of us were able to go in the way we actually wanted to. So, to see that now and to see it accepted and to see young people being able to do that is fantastic."
At my own high school Prom (in the year 2000) - mirroring Mr. Nicholaw's experiences - a same-sex couple dancing together would have been something of science fiction. There weren't even any openly gay students, let alone any willing to make a stand or a brave public display. Watching The Prom made me wonder if there are any at my old school today. How far have we come in the last 18 years and how far have we yet to go? The more the entertainment industry addresses the issue, the greater the chance of "normalization" and this musical comedy is certainly doing its bit to "Kick-Ball-Change the World" by tackling it with heart, a spirit of acceptance and, yes, with fearsome sets of jazz hands!
The premise of The Prom is deceptively simple. A young lady by the name of Emma - a resident of Edgewater, Indiana - is excluded from attending her own Prom for the sole reason that she wants to bring her girlfriend as her date... Shock horror! When a group of narcissistic Broadway actors get wind of the situation, in an effort to rejuvenate or boost their own careers by way of a publicity stunt, they descend on the smalltown community to educate the bigots and teach them the error of their ways... and learn the error of their own self-absorbed ways in the process. All Emma wants to do is be true to herself, be treated like the rest of her classmates and dance with her girlfriend, Alyssa.
What The Prom actually achieves, however, is a musical microcosm where two worlds with opposing values and tolerances collide. It is a microcosm for this divided nation and it offers hope. This clash of ideologies is also briliantly exemplified by Tony Award nominee Matthew Sklar and four-time Tony Award nominee Chad Beguelin's hybrid score. "We just made sure that we had a contemporary sound with all of the stuff that takes place in the town and then the Broadway stuff for all the musical theatre characters," explains Mr. Nicholaw.
Indeed, the score itself is the marriage of two genres and styles with numbers that sound like classic Broadway show tunes of yesteryear (Tony Award winner Beth Leavel's 11 o'clock number "The Lady's Improving" as diva Dee Dee Allen) going head to head with more modern "High School Musical"-esque pop songs ("Tonight Belongs to You" closing out Act I). They are from two different worlds but strive to include the other and still stick to the golden rules of musical theatre to progress the narrative and add character depth (which isn't always a given with musicals nowadays). In the same way, The Prom can reach out to two huge audience demographics. Firstly: young people. Like those who respond "online" to Emma's testimony (her moving rendition of "Unruly Heart") in one of the emotional climaxes of the show, identifying with her and drawing inspiration. Many young people are sure to react identically to the musical as a whole, seeing themselves on stage and forming a deep connection. And secondly: all of us theatre nerds that are perhaps a little longer in the tooth. From the get-go, The Prom is brimming with in-jokes about the theatre industry, courtesy of the larger-than-life personalities played by Brooks Ashmanskas, Beth Leavel, Christopher Sieber, Angie Schworer, and Josh Lamon. Die-hard aficionados in the audience are sure to lap them up until the final curtain calls.
"My favorite [in-joke] is the fact that Angie has been in Chicago for twenty years and has never gotten to play the part of Roxie Hart," beams Mr. Nicholaw. What will your favorite be?
A whole host of supporters from the Broadway community attended Opening Night at the Longacre Theatre last night as well...
The Prom Tickets are available now for performances through to October 20, 2019.