Cue the corsages and limos! The Prom has arrived on Broadway.
Well, actually, in this new musical, Broadway arrives at a prom located in the heart of Indiana.
The story follows theater veterans Dee Dee and Barry (Beth Leavel and Brooks Ashmanskas), who’ve just delivered yet another misfire to the Great White Way in the form of Eleanor! The Eleanor Roosevelt Musical and are in dire need of a PR makeover. So, joined by permanently-in-the-chorus Angie (Angie Schworer) and Trent (Christopher Sieber), who went to Juilliard and will make sure you know it, they do what many actors have done before: They become “activists” and seek a cause where they believe they can make a difference… and a whole bunch of favorable headlines.
And that’s what lands them in the small town of Edgewater, Indiana, where a teen named Emma (Caitlin Kinnunen) just wants to be able to take her girlfriend Alyssa (Isabelle McCalla) to the prom, so the small-minded PTA cancelled the dance altogether. As the boisterous, belting actors storm the Midwestern locale singing and dancing and attempting to make an icon out of Emma, they only make matters worse before things turn around — and they discover the error in their self-involved ways — by the end of Act 2.
The show, written by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin and cleverly directed by Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon), manages to balance the Broadway divas’ growth with Emma’s strength, the musical’s comedic moments, and the heartbreaking things the town does to reject her. But while The Prom delivers important messages about acceptance, it only just scratches the surface on issues like homophobia and bullying, and at points it can feel like an “extra-special” live episode of Glee — and not first-season Glee; we’re talking the latter seasons where the issue-of-the-week often stood on a soapbox and shouted in your ear. And while there have been true stories of towns attempting to block LGBT students from bringing dates to school dances, the show’s depiction of small-town Indiana felt reductive and borderline offensive to this small-town Ohioan.
That said, there’s no shortage of talent (or humor, or heart) onstage at the Longacre Theatre. Leavel, who won a Tony for her turn in The Drowsy Chaperone, brings the house down just about every time she gets the chance — an appropriate skill for a character to defines herself as “a woman who’s known for her belt.” Ashmanskas and Sieber provide the bulk of the laughs while still nailing respective solos like “Barry Is Going to Prom” and the energetic “Love Thy Neighbor,” and Schworer is all legs and razzle-dazzle in the Fosse-inspired “Zazz.”
Kinnunen quickly proves to be a lead worthy of multiple songs highlighting her range, particularly in the show’s most memorable tune, the vulnerably beautiful “Dance With You.” And it’s easy to see why Emma loves Alyssa when McCalla joins her in that duet; the relative newcomer’s voice is breathtaking (you’ll only wish she had a few more chances to show it off).
While the set isn’t entirely memorable, save for the requisite balloons and streamers to jazz up the high school gym, the students at James Madison High are made up of a young ensemble of performers that give the show added energy and impressive dance sequences.
Like many a prom before it — even in Indiana! — Broadway’s The Prom is a good time and though it sometimes tries a little too hard, its heart is in the right place. B+