By ROY BERKO
In 2010 a gay Mississippi high school student was banned from coming to her senior prom by the school’s Board of Education because she wanted to bring her girlfriend as her date. She challenged the ruling, which resulted in the cancellation of the prom. The student and the ACLU sued the district. The federal court found the school district guilty of violating the student’s first amendment rights and said the prom must be held.
The board reinstated the prom, but local parents organized an alternative event to be held on the same night, but kept the event and its location a secret so the gay student and the media would not know.
Celebrities, such as Green Day and Lance Bass rallied together via social media to show support for the student and sponsored a “Second-Chance” prom, where students could attend without homophobic backlash.
That event was the impetuous for Jack Viertel’s concept musical, The Prom, which is starting its national tour with Cleveland performances as part of Key Bank’s Broadway series. The show features music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin and a book co-authored by Beguelin and Bob Martin.
The story centers on four frustrated Broadway actors, at a failure crossroad in their careers, who contrive a way to get attention by traveling to the conservative town of Edgewater, Indiana, to help Emma, a lesbian student banned from bringing her girlfriend to the high school prom.
The Broadway production was critically greeted with such comments as, “such a joyful hoot,” “with its kinetic dancing, broad mugging and belting anthems, it makes you believe in musical comedy again,” and “with a tuneful score, a playful book, and performances that remind you what Broadway heart and chutzpah are all about, this cause cerebra of a show turns out to be a joyous, funny, and sweet production that should appeal to several generations of musical fans.”
The touring production, which rehearsed in Cleveland, was met with smiles, laughs, cheers, resounding applause and a well-deserved standing ovation on opening night.
The story, though possessing the quality of a TV sitcom tale, has a meaningful purpose, is tightly written and keeps attention throughout. This is not A Chorus Line or Man of La Mancha, but proves to be a delight to an audience emerging from the Covid pandemic and in real need of relief from angst.
The show follows the tried-and-true pattern of American musicals since Oklahoma!, the first book musical of the golden age. The opening number sets the pattern for the humor, sprightly dancing, and the over-done performances that follow. The first act ends with a cliff-hanger that the audience must come back for act two, or not know whether the heroine’s problem is resolved, and ends with a joyous audience-invigorating finale. There are several show stoppers, a tender song that is reprised, and an obvious moral.
The musical opens on Broadway, where Eleanor!: The Eleanor Roosevelt Story is celebrating its opening night with its lead cast members Dee Dee Allen and Barry Glickman. The musical is bashed by The New York Times because Dee Dee and Barry do not understand their characters since they are self-absorbed narcissists, resulting in the show closing on opening night. To improve their image, the actors decide to take up “a cause” to appear selfless After searching on Twitter, they find Emma, a teenager from Indiana whose prom was cancelled by the PTA because she wanted to bring her girlfriend. Seeing the opportunity, and some personal connection, the actors decide to go to Indiana to help.
Of course, there are stumbles and conflict and love affairs along the way, but, as is the case with all “fairy tales,” there is a happy-ever-after ending.
Don’t be surprised to hear Broadway songs that sound familiar. The writers have snuck in references to Godspell (“The Acceptance Song”) and Chicago (Zazz”)
The cast for the touring show is top notch. Patrick Wetzel delights as the “over-the-top” gay Barry Glickman. Kaden Kearney is appealing as Emma, the lesbian who only wants to “Dance with You.” Their heartfelt rendition of that song is the vocal highlight of the show. Courtney Batan finely walks the tightrope of not going overboard and creating a ridiculous diva Dee Dee Allen. She is quite the effective vocal belter.
Emily Borromeo’s Fosse jazz dancing aficionado is marvelous in “Zazz.” The real Julliard might be either delighted or abashed to have obsessive Bud Weber (Trent) as a grad, but the audience was enthusiastic with his performance. The rest of the cast and chorus were excellent.
Kudos to choreographer and director Casey Nicholaw and music conductor Chris Gurr for jobs well done.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: The Prom is an old-fashioned musical which tells a contemporary tale with a moral. The touring company gives a fresh, dynamic, fun and tune-filled performance that delighted the audience and got a well-deserved standing ovation. Applause, Applause!
The Prom will be on the Connor Palace stage through November 21, 2021. For tickets click here or call 216-241-6000.
(Roy Berko is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the Cleveland Critics Circle.)