Your prom probably didn’t have a glorious gaggle of Broadway troupers and their trunk loads of self-regard and narcissism gumming things up for your rite of passage – more’s the pity – but in some ways I’d guess Broadway’s musical The Prom isn’t so unlike the one you lived through way back when. The build-up was more fun than the event, right?
Inspired by an actual event – and the inspired is apt – The Prom is the latest razzle-dazzle show-biz love fest from director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw, who applied the same glitz and show-biz glitter to Mean Girls, Aladdin and, more to the point here, Something Rotten!, that great mash-up of the Bard and Broadway. Comparisons won’t do The Prom much good – Something Rotten it isn’t, but it tries.
The Prom begins with a first-act of laughs and a demolition of the type of delicious Broadway monsters who can drop Carrie the Musical jokes with the timed precision of a Fosse broken doll walk.
The premise is this: A getting-no-younger quartet of Broadway performers – two having just bombed in a new musical, one reduced to waiting tables and another facing yet another season on the go-nowhere chorus of Chicago – come to the selfish realization that they need a little good press to boost their careers. Lo and behold, a Cause with a capital C practically arrives on the iPhone doorstep: An Indiana high school lesbian is being barred from attending her prom. (This really happened a few years ago, and the local parents’ cruel decision to simply move the prom becomes the play’s second act).
As the full-of-themselves hoofers and belters, Beth Leavel, Brooks Ashmanskas, Christopher Sieber and Angie Schworer, along with their more spirited than effective publicist, played by Josh Lamon, chew the scenery to great delight, descending on small town America like bedazzled locusts. Their big numbers – “Changing Lives,” “It’s Not About Me,” “The Lady’s Improving” – show just the hoped-for levels of All About Eve level self-satisfaction anyone could want.
Once the inevitable bonding in small-minded Edgewater, Indiana comes around, the musical looses oomph. Partly because few of the locals really come alive, including the young lesbian, and none seem particularly interesting – The Prom has gone out of its way to make young Emma normal (don’t blame performer Caitlin Kinnunen), but she seems more blah than relatable. One wonders if the creation of the rather drab teen characters would have been different if the writing occurred after the emergence of the real-life Parkland heroes. Oh, to see an Emma González go toe to toe with these Broadway refugees.
The songs – music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin – are more than clever and entertaining enough, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, other times moving. Nicholas’s choreography, especially the Broadway pastiche stuff, is a treat, and while the concept (by Jack Viertel) is a good one – here comes Blue State Broadway to save the world from Red State intolerance, and lessons are learned on both sides – the book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin could have been pushed things even further. Doubtful anyone at the Longacre Theatre would hold it against The Prom if it pointed a Fosse finger even more sharply at the bigots.