At the end of the first act, and then again after the last curtain call at the Longacre Theatre, my guest and I turned to each other and blurted out: "So much fun!" Short reviews have intrinsic value, and so I won’t be offended it you do not read on. Just go to The Prom. So much fun!
Pushing on — what do you want from a musical? The music here was lively, if familiar. The lyrics suffered occasionally from a self-mocking, self-referential quality; still, there were some refreshing stings. To my ear, the audio was uneven, and so I missed some lyrical bon mots. Still, big-shiny-noisy forgives a lot—unless, of course, you are Chad Beguelin, the lyricist.
The characters are broadly drawn Broadway types: three above-the-title, narcissistic actors — the diva, the leading man, the other leading man — plus the leggy gypsy addicted to Fosse moves and the remarkably rotund PR guy. After bombing on Broadway, buried by a seething New York Times review, the five decide to flee the scene and find themselves some redemptive good press.
In Edgewater, Indiana, a high-school prom has become a homophobic battleground after 16-year-old Emma (Caitlin Kinnunen) decides to come out, inviting her secret girlfriend to prom. This, the Narcissistic Nabobs determine, will be their cause.
There are whiffs of “…Trouble right here in River City.” Not so much pinch-back suits and Sen Sen as actual teenaged lesbians… but times change, right? (Musicals don’t really, unless you’re Lin Manuel.) This musical relies on well-trodden trails — teenaged angst, redemption, heart-of-gold harpies. The Prom breaks no new ground but warms to traditional gambits.
Before the performance, I got an email noting that one of the stars, Beth Leavel, was ill and would not be performing. I thought, in a big, splashy musical rife with theatrical cliché, why not go see the understudy go on for the star? Leavel has gotten great notices, but understudy Kate Marilley nailed it.
The story — B’way pros teach lesson in Indiana — is unlikely at best. But the script has some bite. There were up to twenty lines that only worked if you were steeped in musicals. Everyone knows who Stephen Sondheim is, to be sure … but that there is a lot of clever anger in the man? The patter includes giving Tina Louise shingles and resurrecting Andy and Judy … something for everyone.
That The Prom is not edgy is fine; it is exuberant.
Caitlin Kinnunen (Emma) has a voice of unusual clarity and sweetness. You are game to lean into her sound, and you must lean in, because it is delicate and surrounded by powerhouse voices.
Brooks Ashmanskas, Angie Schworer, and Christopher Sieber join Marilley in belting out what sound like standards and doing their level best to keep up with the remarkable dance ensemble that supports them.
Casey Nicholaw’s choreography borrows bigly from the imaginative kids who perform on the harsh surfaces of NYC’s subway stations. The corps de fun were delightful, energetic, and relentlessly athletic.
And the women kept up. Angie Schworer is the compelling gypsy who’s still here, getting a lot of action out of her “antelope legs.” Kate Marilley doesn’t miss a step. (She actually did A Chorus Line, albeit in the Finger Lakes.)
The three principal men — Ashmanskas, Sieber, and Josh Lamon — are not, shall we say, “built for dancing.’’ Nevertheless, these guys with a bit of girth move it around with distinction.
There is one mismatch. Michael Potts plays the principled principal of the high school and the ardent fan of diva Dee Dee. Potts knows his way around a musical stage, and his solo was rich. That said, never for one second—and you only get seconds in a musical—do you feel any chemistry between him and any other actor. He is either badly written or miscast.
One surprise: Given, that The Prom is a frothy, high-energy musical (and I quite liked the clamor), there is, nevertheless, one solo number in the second act — I’m looking at you, Mr. Ashmanskas — that brought me to tears. But I won’t spoil it for you.
(Photo by Deen van Meer)
What the popular press says...
"The Prom begins when a theater critic for The New York Times writes a pan so poisonous that the show he’s reviewing dies on the spot. That’s ridiculous. It could never happen. At any rate, it won’t happen now, because The Prom, which opened on Thursday at the Longacre Theater, is such a joyful hoot. With its kinetic dancing, broad mugging and belty anthems, it makes you believe in musical comedy again."
Jesse Green for New York Times
"It is cheering to see a musical comedy that engages with modern questions, with a teenage lesbian romance at its center to boot."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"Don’t be fooled by the title. The stars of this new Broadway musical happen to be middle aged, and they’re long past their high school years. That’s one of the many pleasant surprises in The Prom. It’s not perfect, but it’s a winning collaboration featuring Broadway veterans at the top of their class."
Roma Torre for NY1
"If Forbidden Broadway and the John Hughes teen films that ruled the '80s had a queer baby, it might look something like the frothy new musical comedy, The Prom. That means the show is one part satire, packed with delicious theatrical in-jokes delivered with aplomb by game stage veterans playing caricatures of themselves; and one part inclusivity teaching moment, reminding us there's a place for everyone beneath the Mylar balloons at a high school dance, even in conservative Indiana. If the two halves aren't entirely seamless, especially in the uneven second act, the show has enough humor and heart to paper over the cracks."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter
"This original musical has laughs, tears and joy — not to mention jaw-dropping star-turns — in a clash-of-cultures hoot that earns a big Broadway corsage."
Frank Rizzo for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...