Sunday, November 25, 2018

Review of "The Prom"

The Prom is a frothy, silly, tuneful musical comedy with an overt message of tolerance and understanding.

The plot revolves around two long-time Broadway actors – Barry Glickman (Brooks Ashmanskas) and Dee Dee Allen (Beth Leavel) – who have just opened and closed in the same night of a musical on the life of Eleanor Roosevelt.  A stinging review from The New York Times, read aloud to a skimpily attended cast party, skewers the show and specifically points out the shortcomings of the two performers ending by criticizing their narcissistic disposition.  Aghast at the way they are so negatively perceived they, along with two other frustrated actors – Trent Oliver (Christopher Sieber) and Angie (Angie Schworer) - devise a plan to get back in the good graces of the critics and theater-going public by taking up a cause celeb.  Surfing online they find the plight of an Indiana gay teenager, Emma (Caitlin Kinnunen), whose prom has been cancelled so she won’t be able to attend with her same-sex date.  Off they whisk to the Midwest where their New York City theatrical sensibilities clash mightily with the locals causing, at first, more harm than good.  But, as the visitors become more attuned to their surroundings and with the help of Emma and the broad-minded school principal, a new and enlightened day takes hold in the small Indiana town.

The book by Bob Martin, who won a Tony Award for writing The Drowsy Chaperone, is both amusing and poignant.  His thespian characters are loud, glitzy and can be over-the-top.  The humor generated from their shenanigans might not be every theater-goers cup of tea, but the storyline is altogether inoffensive and full of joy.  Well, maybe residents of Indiana might slightly disagree.   The musical is not just for laughs as Martin has fashioned a story whose message of acceptance and cooperation will resonate with today’s audiences.

The score by Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar (Tony nominees for their work on Elf and The Wedding Singer) is comical, campy, and always lively.  While the tone is mostly upbeat the composers have also crafted a number of tender, soul-searching songs, which add sensitivity and a finely-threaded emotional core to the production.

The cast is superb, led by the four want-to-be-loved actors and Caitlin Kinnunen’s portrayal of Emma.  Brooks Ashmanskas as the flamboyant showman Barry Glickman revels in his gayness as he sets his sights on saving Emma.  He exults in his flashiness and outrageous histrionics.  Glickman lets it all hang out in a performance that, while showy, also incorporates a degree of introspection and moments of parking his over-sized self-importance aside.  Beth Leavel is a consummate professional.  Her Dee Dee Allen basks in a practiced haughtiness and an experienced sophistication.  She effortlessly extracts laughs and even a degree of empathy with her performance.   Christopher Sieber brings a likeability and touch of daftness to Trent Oliver.   Angie Schworer’s Angie is the relative quiet member of the Broadway foursome, but she comes into her own in the Act II, Bob Fosse inspired opener “Zazz.”  Caitlin Kinnunen’s Emma is appealing and sympathetic and probably the best part of the show.  Her nuanced, down-to-earth character is poised and resolute as she seeks equity, openness, and understanding. 

Director/Choreographer Casey Nicholaw, who now adds a fourth show currently playing on Broadway, brings a razzle dazzle showmanship to the production.  He assuredly guides the cast through their sprightly and schmaltzy moments as well as the tender and contemplative portions of the show.  His choreography adds exuberance and athleticism to the dance routines.

The Prom, good-natured merriment that entertains while spotlighting issues of tolerance and acceptance.

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