Review: ‘The Prom’ at Longacre Theater

By Jonathan Spira on 12 March 2019
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Sometimes it’s hard to pin down exactly what a show is about. Is it a satire of Broadway itself, a show within a show, a lesson in what biblical strictures are commonplace today, or a playwright taking a stand against a grave injustice?

In “The Prom,” a wonderfully joyous production at the Longacre Theatre offering theatergoers true comedic gold, it can be all these and more.

On the surface, “The Prom,” the story of an Indiana high school student named Emma (Caitlin Kinnunen, brilliant in the role) who was barred from bringing her girlfriend to the prom – and the group of eccentric Broadway folk who invade her small town in an earnest yet misguided attempt to fight the multiple injustices she faced – may be just that.

It’s also the story of how the two narcissistic stars of the fictitious Broadway show “Eleanor!” (which closed immediately after a review in the New York Times panned the production, a bio-musical on the life of Eleanor Roosevelt) learn to help others without giving thought to their own careers.

Upon learning about Emma’s plight, the show’s stars, Dee Dee (Beth Leavel, in a particularly grand performance) and Barry (Brooks Ashmanskas) and their cohorts, Julliard-grad-turned-waiter Trent (played superbly by Christopher Sieber) and always-on-standby Angie (Angie Schworer) end up on a bus carrying the non-Equity tour of “Godspell” to Emma’s hometown in Indiana, where, as Emma so aptly puts in the song “Just Breathe,” “Note to self: Don’t be gay in Indiana.”

Indiana is apparently not a favorite of the cast, nor do they know much about the state and its inhabitants.

“Those fist-pumping, Bible-thumping, spam-eating, cousin-humping, cow-tipping, shoulder-slumping, tea-bagging, Jesus-jumping losers and their inbred wives,” the song goes, “they’ll learn compassion and better fashion once we at least start changing lives.”

Indeed, reality sets in rather harshly for Dee Dee, who tries to get an upgrade at the local motel, where all but one letter in the property’s sign have burnt out, by brandishing not one but two Tonys.

This is not “The Music Man,” a show that put Gary, Indiana, on the map, something especially apparent when Trent breaks into my favorite song in the show – “Love Thy Neighbor” – a number that points out how it’s wrong to “cherry pick” the bible in terms of what you want to believe or what calls for being stoned at the gates of the city (divorce and losing one’s virginity before marriage are all on the list).

The local PTA president doesn’t help things for Hoosierland.

“This is not America,” she proclaims. “This is Indiana.”

Fortunately, the local and level headed high school principal – Mr. Hawkins (a truly unparalleled performance by Michael Potts) – is clearly one of the illuminati as well as a long-time fan of Dee Dee’s and was already working with the state’s attorney general to battle the PTA.

The show’s many strong points include the songs – lyrics by Chad Beuguelin, who co-wrote the book with Bob Martin, and music by Matthew Sklar – which are memorable for both the feelings they evoke as well as the points they make, while the Broadway-meets-Midwest costumes by Ann Roth and Matthew Pachtman were simply spot on.

The second-act opener, “Zazz,” which in addition to schooling Emma on “style plus confidence” is one of the best-choreographed numbers in the show, although some of the dance moves elsewhere in the show seemed so awkward that they left this critic wondering if director Casey Nicholaw was going for an actual high-school production.

While the show isn’t based on an actual story – it’s loosely derived from a 2010 incident in Mississippi – it will reward the theatergoer with enough joy, laughter, and tears to make up for any small missteps along the way.

THE DETAILS

The Prom
Longacre Theatre
220 W 48th Street
New York, N.Y. 10036
Runtime: 2 hrs. and 15 min.
www.theprommusical.com

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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