By Karen Isaacs
Broadway has an absolutely delightful new musical, The Prom.
Even better it is an original – not based on a film, TV shw, novel or biography of a music industry legend. No raiding the song catalogue of some well-known hits and squeezing them in to fit a plot.
No it is totally original.
Part of the plot was based on a news item from several years ago about the reaction of a small town and a group of parents that cancelled the senior prom rather than let a girl bring her girlfriend.
Though that is the only one part of the plot, it is handled in a way that avoids demonizing the entire town.
Keeping it from becoming a “message musical” is the equal plot about four B list Broadway actors who arrive in the town with their agent to take up the girls’ cause. They are very funny in their inept attempts to help and their total egotism and cluelessness.
The creative team behind this, isn’t as well-known as Lin Manuel Miranda (who is?), but they have solid track records. Co-book writer Bob Martin is best known for The Drowsy Chaperone but he was also responsible for the delightful Elf – the Musical. Chad Beguelin co-book writer and lyricist has credits that include Disney’s Aladdin, The Wedding Singer, Elf and others. Composer Matthew Sklar was responsible for Elf and The Wedding Singer.
This team has skillfully treated the serious plot about Emma and her closeted girl-friend, Alyssa, as well as the Alyssa’s mother, the other senior girls and boys and the high school principal, Mr. Hawkins. But they have combined it with the other plot about Dee Dee Allen and Barry Glickman, two performers whose egos are ginormous and their sidekicks, Trent Oliver (Julliard trained actor who’s mainly a waiter), Sheldon Saperstein (their agent) and Angie, who’s been in the chorus of Chicago for 20 years.
The four performers are shocked to learn that others view them as narcissistic so they decide that a “cause” would help their images. When they learn of Emma’s plight, they descend on the small Indiana town, to exert their power. Of course, they are horrified to learn that most of the townspeople don’t know who they are. The principal who does is also not thrilled since he was working on an agreement that the four scuttle with their activism.
It helps that the four playing the actors are deft handed when combining seriousness with a send-up of the stereotype. Beth Leavel and Brooks Ashmanskas seem to be having the times of their lives playing Dee Dee and Barry. You can’t help smiling as they sing “It’s Not About Me” knowing full well that they think it is. Despite their egos, Leavel, Ashmanskas as well as Christopher Sieber as Trent, Angie Schworer as Angie and Josh Lamon as the agent, Sheldon, also let us see a more vulnerable side to these performers. All too well, they understand how uncertain their futures are and how fleeting stability is.
It takes talent to balance the two sides of the show – the serious situation about Emma and the funny actions of the actors. The writers manage this by allowing those narcissists glimpses of their pasts.
Ashmanskas in particular manages to connect to Emma and in doing so, lets us see the man who was undoubtedly bullied as a teenager. Sieber as Trent Oliver also shows us this more vulnerable side. Leavel’s character is a harder nut to crack, but even she begins to learn something about herself.
It may be clichéd to say that the outsiders learn as much as the townspeople but it is true. The authors also haven’t projected a totally rosy ending. While there is a prom and Alyssa does “come out” there is not hint that all will be fine and dandy.
Martin, Beguelin and Sklar have managed to combine more “Broadway” tunes with songs that reflect the younger generation. Emma’s has two lovely (and heart-breaking songs) “Dance with You” and “Unruly Heart” that should become standards. Caitlin Kinnunen as Emma and Isabelle McCalla as Alyssa are touching as the romantic couple.
Of course, the show biz types have some rousing numbers from Angie’s “Zazz” to Dee Dee’s “The Lady’s Improving” and Barry’s “Barry Is Going to Prom.” Trent’s “Love Thy Neighbor” is also terrific.
Director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw has added his magic touch to the production. He keeps it moving, integrates the teenagers and others fluidly. He has blended the satire of the actors with the more serious story of the two girls in a balanced way.
Are there flaws? Yes, few musicals achieve near perfection. That should not deter you from seeing The Prom. You will laugh, applaud and have a really good time.
The Prom is at the Longacre Theatre, 247W. 44 Street. For tickets contact Telecharge.