By Barry Reszel
Poignantly wrapped in a delicious anthemic and ballad-laden songbook, The Prom national tour gracing Chicago’s Cadillac Palace this week delivers to patrons all the feels of a truly outstanding Broadway production.
A 2019 six-time Tony nominee and Drama Desk award winner for Outstanding Musical, The Prom made its world premiere at The Alliance Theatre, Atlanta, GA, in 2016 before opening on Broadway in 2018, playing 23 previews and 310 regular performances. In Chicago for just a week, the touring cast features leads every bit as accomplished as the roles’ originators and an ensemble of high energy dancers that blow the roof off the venue.
The Prom features a book by Tony Award winner Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) and six-time Tony nominee Chad Beguelin, based on an original concept by Jack Viertel. Music is by Matthew Sklar with lyrics by Chad Beguelin. It’s a story based loosely on a real-life event in Fulton, Miss., when in 2010 the town’s high school refused to let high school senior, Constance McMillen, and her girlfriend attend the prom as a couple. McMillen was also told she could not wear a tuxedo to the event—that only male students were permitted to do so.
McMillen got the American Civil Liberties Union involved, and the school board decided to cancel prom. In response, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the school district. “All I wanted was the same chance to enjoy my prom night like any other student,” McMillen said. “But my school would rather hurt all the students than treat everyone fairly.” While the prom was canceled, parents from the school organized their own version for most of the students to attend; McMillen and her date were tricked into attending a separate, fake event. The controversy put McMillen in the national spotlight, and several celebrities came together to support an inclusive prom organized by the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition. Lance Bass, members of Green Day and celebrity chef Cat Cora all helped pay for the prom, which was open to any student who wanted to attend. (Time, Dec. 2020)
Reset in Edgewater, IN (“Note to self…Don’t be gay in Indiana”), The Prom‘s story parallels McMillan’s, featuring Emma as the student banned from prom and not-yet-out girlfriend Alyssa Greene, whose mother is head of the PTA. The comedic addition to this musical comes in the persons of four down-on-their-luck Broadway musical theatre has-beens and wanna-bes who trek to Edgewater expecting publicity for trading in their narcissism to help Emma fight against the town’s conservative bent. A full synopsis and production history may be read here.
Heartbreak, hilarity, bullying, transformation, tenderness, social justice, acceptance and love are just a handful of emotional roads traveled in a show that reminds audiences what Broadway musicals are supposed to be. It’s particularly important these days with the ongoing political hatred thrown in the direction of the LGBTQ+ community and its allies.
Standout performances from Kaden Kearney (Emma) and Kalyn West (Alyssa) include three of this reviewer’s favorite ballads from the songbook—Kearney’s rendition of the tender, “Unruly Heart,” West’s of the telltale, “Alyssa Greene,” and the pair’s gorgeous, “Dance With You.” Courtney Balan (“It’s Not About Me”) as two-time Tony Award winner Dee Dee Allen is hilarious. Patrick Wetzel as Drama Desk Award Winner Barry Glickman shines in “Barry is Going to the Prom.” Emily Borromeo as sultry, sexy Chicago chorus girl Angie Dickinson offers the perfect amount of “Zazz.” Bud Weber as Trent Oliver, Julliard Graduate and non-Equity Godspell cast member features a great voice in both “The Acceptance Song” and “Love Thy Neighbor.” Sinclair Mitchell as Principal Hawkins and Dee Dee Allen fan is a stabilizing force whose, “We Look to You,” is loving and sweet.
Ashanti J’Aria as Mrs. Greene and Shavey Brown as Sheldon Saperstein, Broadway press agent, add to the hardest working, best dancing ensemble on tour anywhere, including: Jordan Alexander, Gabrielle Beckford, Ashley Bruce, Olivia Rose Cece, Maurice Dawkins, Jordan De Leon, James Caleb Grice, Megan Grosso, Marie Gutierrez, Chloe Rae Kehm, Braden Allen King, Brandon J. Large, Christopher McCrewell, Adriana Negron, Lexie Plath, Brittany Nicole Williams, Thad Turner Wilson and Josh Zacher. The all-cast numbers, “Tonight Belongs to You,” “You Happened,” and the closing, “It’s Time to Dance,” are absolutely first rate.
The touring production keeps intact the shows original Broadway creative team. It’s directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Casey Nicholaw (Book of Mormon, Aladdin, Mean Girls) with scenic design by Scott Pask, costume design by Ann Roth and Matthew Pachtman, lighting design by Natasha Katz, sound design by Brian Ronan, wig and hair design by Josh Marquette, make-up design by Milagros Medina-Cerdeira, orchestrations by Larry Hochman, and music supervision by Mary-Mitchell Campbell.
There will undoubtedly be a long future for The Prom in regional, community and school productions. Its highlighted bigotry won’t be going away anytime soon, making the show a continuously relevant joy. But Chicagoland musical theatre patrons should do themselves a favor and get downtown to see this touring production; it’s simply that good.
Broadway in Chicago presents “The Prom” at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, through April 24. For tickets or more information, please click here.
Photos by Deen van Meer.