In a world where bad news seems to pop up every day, a bit of joy can be a beacon of light for those taking part in it. For many people, this bit of joy comes in the form of watching musicals and plays performed live on stage. However, many of these live performances have tragic endings, which leave audience members searching for tissues by the time the lights come up at the end of the second act. This isn’t the case with “The Prom,” however, a musical filled with comedy and joyfulness that will leave all of its audience members with a smile on their faces and a song in their hearts as they exit the theater.
“The Prom” centers around Emma Nolan, a teenager banned from going to her prom due to the fact that she wanted to go with her girlfriend. When four Broadway actors with failing careers hear about Emma and her story on social media, they pick up everything and head to the small, conservative town of Edgewater, Ind. to try and give Emma her prom—and give themselves some better PR to boost their careers. The show is loosely based off a real life court case that occurred in 2010, with Emma’s story following a similar plot to that of the case (1). While Broadway stars did not storm the school in the original case, many celebrities did band together to help organize a prom after the original one was canceled. “The Prom” opened on Broadway in November 2018, before closing in August 2019. The musical has also had two adaptations—a young adult novel by Saundra Mitchell that was released in 2019, as well as a film for Netflix directed by Ryan Murphy released in December 2020. The show is now on a tour across the United States, with stops in both Providence, R.I. and Worcester, Mass..
On a complete whim, I bought tickets to see “The Prom” in Providence for the Saturday evening show on March 12. I had already seen the show once on Broadway during the beginning of its run for my seventeenth birthday, and now I got tickets to see it in Worcester when the show stops in April for my twentieth birthday. I made the impulsive decision after seeing how inexpensive the tickets were—by theatrical standards, at least—and having a bit of extra money for my own “fun” purchases. After seeing the performance in Providence, I am more excited than ever to see the show in Worcester!
The entire cast and their energy was absolutely electric to the point that I found it hard to pull my attention away from the stage. The choreography was something that left me in awe during my first viewing of the show, but this was only cemented during this in my mind. Scenes like “Tonight Belongs to Us” and “Love Thy Neighbor” showcased the ensemble’s incredible dance talents in both large group routines or solo features.
The singing and the acting of the cast was stellar, in addition to the dancing. While the entire cast left me in awe, stand out cast members for me were Kaden Kearney (Emma Nolan), Kalyn West (Alyssa Greene), Sinclair Mitchell (Tom Hawkins), Emily Borromeo (Angie Dickinson) and Bud Weber (Trent Oliver). Kearney’s vocal power was absolutely out of this world, and their version of “Unruly Heart” had me in tears before the song was halfway through. While this tour is not Kalyn West’s first time with “The Prom”—or first time playing the character of Alyssa, as she understudied for her on Broadway—I am glad I got to see her perform. West’s rendition of “Alyssa Greene,” while a bit grittier and packed with a bit more teenage angst than what I had seen, had me wholeheartedly relating to the character and crying alongside Alyssa.
Mitchell’s portrayal of James Madison High School’s principal Tom Hawkins, as well as his performance of “We Look To You,” perfectly captured the feelings I had felt as a fan of musical theatre returning to see one of my favorite shows in an ever-changing world. Borromeo and Weber were absolutely the scene stealers of the night for me, with their numbers, ”Zazz” and “Acceptance Song,” and “Love Thy Neighbor,” respectively, being some of my favorites of the whole show.
I was impressed with how well the show was able to adapt to fit in with the modern day. With the original show debuting on Broadway in 2018, there are a few jokes that are outdated in 2022. For example, when the actors are searching for a cause to “save their careers,” Angie opens Twitter and scrolls through what is trending. She lists off what she sees, and states “Trump” several times in a row as she scrolls on her phone. In the updated performances, however, the Trump lines were modified to “global warming, shrinking ice cap, dead penguins.” Not only does this reflect our modern climate, the line—although it was played off as a joke—also helped to paint an ominous picture of the state of the world without dating itself too much.
On a lighter note, the show also updated its name-dropping moments. At one point in the Broadway run, Trent states that Stephen Sondheim is a very big fan of his Sweeney Todd, and that he could get Sondheim to write a number for the Broadway actors to perform. However, due to Sondheim’s recent passing in late 2021, the line was updated to feature Andrew Lloyd Webber and the Phantom of the Opera.
The only downside for me had been how intricate the sets were. They were truly wonderful to look at—the Applebee’s set actually looked like an Applebee’s, for example—however, since I already knew the plot of the show, I found myself getting distracted by the intricacies of the set instead of catching the new choices made by the actors. Less frivolously, while some of the more problematic lines were taken out, some still made it through; however, it can be seen as a way to signal how out of touch the Broadway actors were.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at “The Prom.” The show takes queerness and the trials and tribulations that come with being queer and makes them something into akin to pure joy and love—something that seems to be all too uncommon in modern media. If this review sparked any interest at all, check out “The Prom” when it comes to The Hanover Theatre in Worcester, Mass. from April 26 to May 1.