New York City Theater
Maybe it’s just coincidence. But setting the new, exuberant, gay-friendly musical “The Prom” in Indiana is begging for a connection with Mike Pence. The former Indiana governor and now vice president has been accused of being homophobic, a stance obviously at odds with that of the show’s.
Actually, we start in New York where a musical named “Eleanor” (as in Roosevelt) has just been panned so unmercifully it’s about to have its first night be its last. The cast of egocentric hams (they’re actors!) looking to perpetuate their camaraderie and discover a cause célèbre, decide to hot-foot it to Indiana where an out lesbian high school student is embroiled in controversy. Seems she wants to take her girlfriend to the prom, prompting parents and students to freak out. Aware of the incongruity of being “liberal Democrats from Broadway” in a small-town, small-minded backwater, the group is determined though cautious. (“Make a note to oneself,” says one group member: “Don’t be gay in Indiana.”)
That admonition is impossible for glitterati Barry Glickman (an hilarious, endearing Josh Lamon, subbing for Brooks Ashmanskas), whose every move flutters like a butterfly. Others making the trek to the sticks are the self-centered leading lady, Dee Dee Allen (a powerful Beth Leavel), proud Juilliard grad Trent Oliver (a goofy Christopher Sieber) and a Miss Fixit, the long-legged Angie (Angie Schworer, a Jane Krakowski look-alike).
Descending on the town and Emma, the butch lesbian in question (a sweet, empathetic, beautifully limned Caitlin Kinnunen), they naturally meet opposition, even from Alyssa (a pert Isabelle McCalla), Emma’s girlfriend, and especially from Alyssa’s mom, Mrs. Greene (the appealing Courtenay Collins). But there’s support, also, especially from high school principal Mr. Hawkins (Michael Potts, accomplished as ever).
The Bob Martin-Chad Beguelin libretto walks the line between satire (the N.Y. actors attract self-important publicity and must learn to be selfless) and genuineness (an embarrassed Emma shuns being a symbol). The town itself suffers from unemployment, an added reason for its skittishness. Amidst the workable plot, there’s time for singing tuneful songs (music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Beguelin) that advance the action (“Just Breathe,” “Dance With You, “Unruly Heart” and youthful, ebullient dancing.
There’s a certain innocence about the evening, a good-heartedness that transcends thornier issues though its pleas for equality are unmistakable. Nothing overwhelms, all is tasteful and witty, from Scott Pask’s sets, Natasha Katz’s lighting, Ann Roth and Matthew Pachtman’s costumes and Brian Ronan’s sound design. With merry orchestrations by Larry Hochman and affectionate, fast-paced choreography and direction by Casey Nicholaw, this is the most delightful musical so far this season.
--David A. Rosenberg
March 4, 2019