I wanted to love “The Prom.” I really did. With glamorous costumes, a catchy score, and a heartfelt “and so they all lived happily ever after” lesson, it has all the makings to be a hit. But is it enough?
Directed by Casey Nicholaw, “The Prom” tells the story of four Broadway narcissists-turned-activists as they rally behind a teenager that has been banned from taking her girlfriend to the prom. And not that that is an inherently bad plot, but it is perhaps a bit predictable. It’s reminiscent of a Disney movie, but imagine the Disney movie has thrown in some language and humor that may not be suitable for it’s seemingly target audience. Sprinkle in some…inserting lyrical choices (lyrisist Chad Beguelin rhymes “lesbian” with “thespian”), and you’ve got “The Prom.”
Predictable storyline aside (my apologies to book writers Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin), “The Prom” is good fun. The production opens with the opening night of a failed new musical starring Dee Dee Allen (Courtney Balan) and Barry Glickman (Patrick Wetzel), who, while talented performers, have gained a reputation of being selfish and narcissistic. Joined by the doomed-to-be-in-the-ensemble Angie (Emily Borromeo) and I-went-to-Juliard Trent Oliver (Bud Weber), they travel to Edgewater, Indiana to gain some positive publicity by helping Emma (Kaden Kearney) take her girlfriend Alyssa (Kalyn West) to prom.
From the moment she takes the stage, Balan steals the show. With impeccable comedic timing (demonstrated by displaying not one, but two, Tony Awards to the motel clerk in Indiana) and an incredible voice to match, particularly in her number “The Lady’s Improving,” her sparkle (both figuratively and literally, thanks to costume designers Ann Roth and Matthew Pachtman) is rivaled only by that of Borromeo. With by far the best costumes in the show, Borromeo is like a fairy with a smartphone, and her performance is just as fun and bouncy as her high kicks and her Fosse-inspired number “Zazz.”
Wetzel and Weber are just as dynamic, and Weber’s number “Love Thy Number” is just about as cheesy as musical theater gets while still managing to be endearing enough to keep you from rolling your eyes.
Compared to these flashy, colorful Broadway stars, Kearney has a sort of quiet strength. Unfortunately, their singing is not quite up to par with their stellar acting (which truly breaks my heart to say, because Kearney’s acting is gut-wrenchingly, achingly beautiful), leaving numbers like “Just Breathe” and “Dance With You” with something to be desired. That being said, Emma’s ballad “Unruly Heart” is something spectacular and by far Kearney’s best number in the production. When paired with the lovely and talented West, their chemistry together is so strong you can’t help but root for them, particularly during West’s number “Alyssa Greene.”
The rest of Emma’s classmates, while arguably the most stereotypical and predictable characters in the show, bring an explosion of energy and fun to the stage. Their promposal song “Tonight Belongs to You” is joyfully catchy and perhaps the most visually entertaining part of the production, thanks to choreography from Nicholaw and drop dead gorgeous costumes from Roth and Pachtman.
“The Prom” is campy. It’s cheesy. It’s definitely not the show for you if you’re looking for a dramatic, thought-provoking demonstration of the theatrical arts. But if you’re looking for a show that will make you smile and leave you with songs stuck in your head, “The Prom” more than delivers, despite its flaws. With several clever theater-related easter eggs hidden throughout the production and a message of love and understanding wrapped up in a corsage-covered package, “The Prom” will definitely be a “night to remember.”
“The Prom” is recommended for audiences ages ten and up and makes use of mature language, theatrical haze, and strobe effects. The production includes one fifteen minute intermission, and tickets can be purchased here. “The Prom” will run at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts through January 16, 2022.
All photo credit to Deen van Meer