Not even Santa Claus or gusty winds could compete. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade yesterday drew the kind of post-parade buzz usually reserved for balloon blunders or temperature woes. This year, Broadway stole the show, with the parade’s first-ever same-sex kiss capping a performance from The Prom, the charming musical from director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw. Based loosely on a real-life incident, The Prom follows a troupe of hilariously self-obsessed theater stars of a certain age who swarm into a small conservative Indiana town in support of a high school girl who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom.
The musical’s big finale, bringing together the entire cast in song and dance, hits its high note when the girls (played by Caitlin Kinnunen and Isabelle McCalla) embrace and kiss, a bit of tenderness captured on live TV that immediately became a social media “Did you see that?” moment.
Prom cast member Josh Lamon tweeted yesterday, “The first #LGBTQ kiss in the Parade’s history. We here at @ThePromMusical have never been so proud.”
Others in the Broadway community, including Patti Murin, who plays Princess Anna in the musical Frozen, soon responded. “This was the most beautiful, inspiring performance on the parade. I was full on sobbing on my couch…
Of course, there were haters. “Gross” and “I weep for the culture” were among the responses to Lamon’s tweet. Right-wing Christian radio host and blogger Linda Harvey wrote on her website that “we weren’t allowed to enjoy [the parade] before the incessant homosexual agenda was thrust into America’s face,” and called on her followers to boycott Macy’s this holiday season.
Today, Lamon tweeted, “Yesterday was remarkable. It was also difficult. I was targeted by hate groups, ambushed with awful messages and became even more proud of who I am and the incredible show I am lucky to be a part of….”
Deadline spoke to Nicholaw this afternoon. Though his other Broadway productions currently include Mean Girls, Aladdin and, as co-director, The Book of Mormon, today was all about The Prom.
The conversation has been edited and condensed.
Have you been surprised by the reactions to that kiss?
CASEY NICHOLAW: I’ve mostly just read the positive stuff, to tell you the truth, because it means so much to me and I kind of hate knowing there might be an outpouring in the other direction. For me, being a kid who didn’t go to his own prom because I’m 56 years old and it just wasn’t allowed at the time, to be able to see that moment on TV…The first time I watched it on the monitor when we were rehearsing, I just couldn’t stop crying. It just moved me so much that we were actually doing it and that we were able to do it, that the people [from Macy’s and NBC] who were in charge of the parade didn’t scoff or say, hey, we can’t do that.
For me it just was such a huge message that they allowed it and they went for it and were committed to it, and I honestly cannot thank them enough. [His voice cracks] I get so emotional talking about it because I think it’s a huge step and a brave thing for them to do.
I was watching it live and, having seen The Prom, to be honest it didn’t occur to me during the parade that I was watching a big moment. I was watching it as a scene from the musical…
NICHOLAW: Well, me too. You know, we live in our world and we go on with life, and we [on The Prom team] just wanted to go with what was the best number to do, and I thought, “Oh, we’ll do the last number because it’s got everybody in the cast in it and it will be fantastic.” Then as we were thinking about it, all of a sudden it occurred to me, “Oh my god, Kiss! Kiss or no kiss? What do we do?” I kept thinking we were going to get a No Kiss from [Macy’s], and then when we rehearsed it, and the people from the parade came to watch, we thought let’s just do it and see what happens. And nobody said anything to us.
Did they bring it up at all?
NICHOLAW: No, they didn’t. They had already seen the show, so they knew what it was, and they knew when we said we were going to do the finale what that was going to be. But I have to honestly say I didn’t know what that moment would be until were were rehearsing the number on the street in front of Macy’s, and I was watching the monitor and when the two girls came into each other, I was just like, “Wow, this is huge,” and I know this is huge because I suddenly put myself in the audience, as if I was watching it from home.
No matter how long The Prom runs — and hopefully it’s a huge hit and is going to run a long time because that’s what we all want with every show we do — but just the idea of how many people we are reaching, how many kids we are reaching, and they’ve been so responsive…People have been sending me responses from teens and high school students over the last two days and it’s been amazing. I think, wow, we’ve been able to make some people who feel marginalized feel OK. And that to me means everything.
A very wise colleague of mine has long said that the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade offers more visibility for Broadway than even the Tony Awards. You scored a jackpot there.
NICHOLAW: I feel like we did and we didn’t even really set out to do that. We set out to do our favorite number, you know what I mean? It was, “Let’s do the number that includes the most,” and it turned out to be the one that really included the most. Who knew?
Has there been an uptick in ticket sales today?
NICHOLAW: I hope so. I texted one of our producers but haven’t heard yet.
I can’t imagine there wouldn’t be.
NICHOLAW: I can’t imagine there wouldn’t be either.
Was there any trepidation or nervousness on your part or the cast’s about security, catcalls, things like that?
NICHOLAW: You sort of get used to the fact that anytime you do anything risky, that kind of thing could happen. I think if the product is good, you’re going to win out. When we did Book of Mormon we were so nervous – are we going to be picketed? And it didn’t happen. The product was good. At least you hope that’s the reason.
I think you just have to send the message you want to send, and follow what the story dictates and what drew you to something in the first place.
Have you spoken to Caitlin or Isabelle since yesterday?
NICHOLAW: No, I’m actually in Alaska at the moment. But they were so thrilled. We all had such a bonding moment at rehearsal Monday night on the street in front of Macy’s. It just was like, look what we’re doing. I think that’s when it sunk in for all of us.
Josh Lamon tweeted today that he has been targeted by hate groups with awful messages, but that it only makes him prouder of the show…
NICHOLAW: Of course. There will always be people and groups like that, negative about everything. Everyone is so anxious to hate these days. So I choose not to go there, especially when it’s about something we’ve been working on for seven years and means so much to us.