Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Prom


Director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw once again demonstrates the Midas touch in choosing material. To the three hits (Mean Girls, Aladdin and The Book of Mormon) he already has on Broadway, he has now added a fourth with this delightful, cannily-crafted show that puts the comedy back in musical comedy. It may recall Bye, Bye, Birdie in depicting the invasion of Middle America by show biz celebrities and also Hairspray in its theme of righting an injustice, but the end result is totally original. It is hilarious, generous and touching. When two “aging narcissists,” as the Times review calls them, Dee Dee Allen (Beth Leavel; The Drowsy Chaperone) and Barry Glickman (Brooks Ashmanskas; Something Rotten!, Bullets over Broadway), are brutally panned for their performances as Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR in the hiphop musical Eleanor, they search for a way to burnish their reputations by becoming celebrity activists. When they read on Twitter about Emma (Caitlin Kinnunen; The Bridges of Madison County), a lesbian high school student whose wish to bring her girlfriend to the prom led to the prom’s cancellation, they find their cause. Joined by their friends Angie (Angie Schworer; The Producers), a chorus girl in Chicago for 20 years, Trent Oliver (Christopher Sieber; Shrek, Spamalot), a Juilliard-trained actor/waiter who is between jobs, and their rotund PR man Sheldon Saperstein (Josh Lamon; Groundhog Day), they hitch a ride to Edgewater, Indiana with a non-Equity Godspell bus tour to lend their help to Emma, whether she wants it or not. The campaign against an inclusive prom is led by the adamant Mrs. Greene (Courtenay Collins; Eating Raoul), whose daughter Alyssa (Isabelle McCalla; Aladdin), unbeknownst to her mother, is Emma’s secret girlfriend. The school principal Mr. Hawkins (David Josefsberg; Altar Boyz, u/s for Michael Potts; Jitney) is sympathetic to Emma and is on the verge of finding a solution when the Broadway Five barge into the PTA meeting, thereby managing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. There is a cruel trick played on Emma that leads to her breakup with Alyssa. A side plot is that Mr. Hawkins is a big fan of Dee Dee’s and they hit it off. I won’t go into details of the further mayhem that follows. Suffice it to say there is a terrific song for each character, the dance numbers are wonderfully energetic and the ending is touching. The sturdy book by Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) and Chad Beguelin (Aladdin, The Wedding Singer) includes a slew of insider Broadway musical jokes to make the audience feel smart. The music by Matthew Sklar (Elf, The Wedding Singer) is catchy and the lyrics by Bequelin are often clever. Scott Pask’s (The Book of Mormon, The Band’s Visit) sets are both functional and attractive. The costumes by Ann Roth (The Nance) and Matthew Pachtman (The Book of Mormon) are wonderful. The show has been brilliantly cast. Normally I would be offended at the swishy queen stereotype represented by Barry, but Ashmanskas plays him so well that I didn’t really mind. My only complaint is that, as so often happens these days, the music was overamplified, making the lyrics occasionally hard to hear. The season gets a welcome boost from this thoroughly enjoyable show. Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes including intermission.

A note about color-blind (or alternative) casting: Once again I am puzzled by whether the race of an actor is meant to be significant or not. The actor who normally plays Mr. Hawkins, the school principal, is black. The night I attended, the role was played by his understudy, who is white. If the choice of a black actor was meant to be significant, it would put a certain spin on events in the play. The citizens of Edgewater could not be completely intolerant if they chose someone black as high school principal. Would it then be meaningful that the only one in town who is trying to build bridges is black? It would also add another dimension to the romance between Dee Dee and Mr. Hawkins. On the other hand, if race was not a consideration in the casting and the actor chosen was simply the best actor auditioned, then all my speculation is irrelevant. I wish I knew which. Comments, as always, are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. Like you, I thoroughly enjoyed this old-fashioned musical on a contemporary topic. Truly uproarious laughs. Wonderful cast. Enjoyable score. Great choreography. Of course, I do not know the intent in casting a black high school principal and Michael Potts was in the show the night I saw it, but it certainly made sense that an African-American in middle America would stand up for the rights of another minority.