The Prom opened last night at the Orpheum Theatre as part of the Broadway on Hennepin theatre season. This show is simply the best! A musical about inclusiveness that never feels like a lecture. A musical that pokes gentle fun at the actors profession while not making you feel like an outsider. It has powerful songs, funny songs, Zazzy songs, fantastic dancing, and at the center of it all is an unruly heart that brought this theatergoer to tears, tears of joy. The Prom shows us peoples worst traits and behaviors and then shows how we overcome those tendencies. It gives hope that we can all do better and it does it in a way that makes you want to get up and dance the night away. I haven’t left the theater this high on a show since Come From Away, and before you say that wasn’t that long ago, I’ve seen 30 shows since then. This is a show I wish I could attend every night of it’s run bringing a different group of friends with me each time. I had seen the film version and I really enjoyed it. I’ve also been listening to the cast recording for about two or three years so I knew it would be good. It exceeded my expectations, it’s everything you want in a modern musical comedy. It’s everything you want from a night at the theater. Go early and go often, you’ll always regret it if you don’t go to The Prom.
The Prom tells the story of a small town in Indiana that has cancelled prom rather than let a high school student, Emma take her girlfriend as her date. It opens with Dee Dee and Barry, actors who are past their prime, headlining a show, Eleanor! The Eleanor Roosevelt Musical, whose opening night is also going to be its closing night. They grasp onto the story in Indiana as a way to raise their profiles and rehab their image. Along with fellow actors Trent and Angie, thespians descend upon a meeting where Emma along with her Principal Mr. Hawkins are trying to convince the PTA to reverse their decision. What begins as a co-opting of Emma’s dilemma for their own narcissistic reasons, will ultimately help all of them deal with their own issues. Emma will have her ups and downs as will her closeted girlfriend Alyssa Green, whose mother is the head of the PTA. It’s a story that pokes gentle loving fun at theatrical types while also dealing with the very real issue of intolerance towards and the need for inclusion of LGBTQ identifying indivuduals.
The outstanding cast is spearheaded by Kaden Kearney as Emma, they are the outstanding. The best surprise was their dancing skills, during the songs “Zazz” and “It’s Time To Dance” that gets spotlighted, moments of pure joy. Playing off veteran performers Courtney Balan as Dee Dee and Patrick Wetzel as Barry, Kearney more than holds their own. What is interesting watching the performances is that for a show that devotes a sizeable amount of time displaying the selfishness of stars, watching these actual actors performing you really feel that they are rooting for each other. Balan plays the self absorbed two time Tony Award winner with the stage presence and vocal chops of, well a two time Tony Award winner. Wetzel has a blast as the gay actor for whom Emma’s situation feels very personal. He plays it campy but not to over the top, he gets us to laugh at the self absorption of the Broadway star but also allows us to care for him.
The Prom was based on a real life incident the book is by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin with music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Beguelin. It’s brilliantly structured, it’s basically a good natured parody of theater actors and a message play about what it is like to be an LGBTQ identifying teenager in middle America. Somehow it weaves these two disparate things into a perfectly flowing musical that never feels anything but organic. The theater groups songs are mainly comical, the songs focusing on Emma and Alyssa are more emotionally rewarding, but that isn’t to say they are not fun. Sklar and Beguelin have created half a dozen truly memorable songs with lines like “Note to self, don’t be gay in Indiana” and “And nobody out there ever gets to define the life I’m meant to lead with this unruly heart of mine”. There is not a single song I don’t like in the entire show and on my musical playlist where I usually try to limit myself to no more than three songs from any one show it occupies six slots. When you leave the theatre, you’ll be adding them to your playlist as well.
The Prom runs through April 17th at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://hennepintheatretrust.org/broadway/.
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