Everyone’s got a prom story – even if that story entails spending the evening on a sofa with stuffed-crust pizza and Star Wars. Over the past five years, a group of The Great White Way’s super-students joined forces to build a prom for everyone, through a plot that brings Broadway actors in need of a win to take on a socially unjust small-town. Dust off your dancing shoes, because The Prom’s doors are finally open, eight shows a week, at Longacre Theatre: Fly solo, ask the date of your dreams, bring your entire family – there is no wrong way to roll into this party. Broadway Spin’s Juliet Mazer-Schmidt is here to help theatre virgins and virtuosos alike to learn more about some of the A+ crew throwing YOU a night to remember.
FACT 1: Everyone you know and love (or have been dying to meet) from Broadway is here.
Two-thousand-pound puppets aside, this crowd-pleaser checks all the boxes: infectious feel-good energy of Kinky Boots, plus the emotional catharsis delivered by Come from Away and The Band’s Visit. The Prom channels Chicago’s jazz (here it’s “zazz”) alongside the social awkwardness-meets-potential of Dear Evan Hansen (but without the lie) – or the upcoming Be More Chill (but without the pill). Here, the honest exploration of identity found in recent Broadway resident Fun Home walks arm-in-arm with The Book of Mormon’s use of clever comedy to challenge community beliefs. It’s a show that uses a guitar and a voice to make adults listen (see also School of Rock), while stumbling into civic activism reminiscent of Shiz University witches Elphaba and Glinda (whose Wicked recently celebrated 15-years on Broadway!).
FACT 2: A new piece of Broadway history, audiences are in good hands with this Prom “Committee.”
Make no mistake, this is a show with an agenda. Its central controversy – two girls who want to attend prom as a couple – places it in a well-established line of shows that question conservative philosophies about who can and can’t dance together. Fiddler on the Roof tackled religion (and, in fact, preferred women to dance with each other); Hairspray addressed race; The Prom now shines that spotlight on gender. Packaged with bright colors and catchy songs, The Prom’s well-studied creative team make it seemingly impossible for audiences not to step-up and help build a space where everyone’s welcome.
FACT 3: Jack Viertel launched The Prom’s Original Concept.
In 1954, Mary Martin’s Peter Pan flew through Broadway’s Winter Garden and hooked a five-year-old Jack Viertel on musicals for life. Today you’re hard-pressed to find a mind that knows the artform better than this Broadway executive/NYU professor/artistic director – who also served as a creative consultant on multiple hits including Hairspray and Dear Evan Hansen. Viertel’s 2016 book, The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows are Built, spends nearly 300 packed pages dissecting patterns of what works (and doesn’t) when using musical theatre to elevate a message. Fear not, there’s no homework at The Prom: Viertel’s done it all for you – just sit back, relax, and experience this fun, feel-good example.
FACT 4: The Prom Bookwriter Bob Martin makes new friends – but keeps the old.
A comedy writer who understands performer struggles from the inside, Bob Martin got his start with The Second City Toronto in the mid-90s. He later drew from his humbling experiences as an improviser to write TV series Slings and Arrows, a dark comedy about a floundering theatre company’s quest to capture authenticity. During this time, Martin also penned what would become 2006’s Tony-winning The Drowsy Chaperone – giving Martin his Broadway debut as a writer and actor.
Chaperone transported audiences into the apartment of an antisocial man who tunes out the world with original Broadway cast recordings, fantasizing fully-staged musicals in his modest living space. Twelve years after Chaperone, Martin’s Prom once again presents Broadway stars and average Americans side-by-side. But where Chaperone frames theatre as a distraction, The Prom offers it, instead, as an “escape” – one that “helps you heal.” Here, the stage actors are flesh-and-blood humans who really do wind up on your bed, in your business, aiming to change your world – and they’re just as flawed as everyone else.
Beth Leavel, who won a Tony for playing the title character in Chaperone, is back once again playing a Broadway diva with a brassy belt – this time struggling to deprogram her celebrity and become a better human being. A queen in any room she enters (even an Indiana Applebee’s), Leavel shines – and Martin knows exactly how to write her a part that lets her do so at highest wattage.
FACT 5: Casey Nicholaw covers Broadway’s hottest dance moves.
Another creative who made a dual-role Broadway debut with Chaperone (his first time serving as both director and choreographer), Casey Nicholaw is a former performer whose work currently appears on four Broadway stages (plus more overseas!). Nicholaw’s portfolio of multifaceted stage pictures ranges from genies and magic carpets to Mormon missionaries and Mean Girls – making him an ideal candidate to unite differing minds and build a #PromForEveryone.
FACT 6: Caitlin Kinnunen is a new kind of queen.
The Prom’s political statement intertwines with its leading lady’s happiness – and Kinnunen comes through big-time with passion and pathos not frequently associated with teenage girls on a prom-based mission. Her endearing portrayal of Emma is empathetic and forward-thinking, displaying a raw vulnerability in the face of haters that’s likely to turn her into a role model for teen outcasts worldwide who fight for a chance to dance. This is a performance you want to experience firsthand.
FACT 7: She’s backed up by a Varsity-level squad of Broadway pros
If Brooks Ashmanskas isn’t a name you know already, you will! And fans of The Wire wondering if that’s erudite enforcer and hitman Brother Mouzone in the photo below: indeed, it is. And yes, that’s Michael Potts, inimitable actor of screen and stage. If you’ve heard The Book of Mormon’s original cast recording, it’s his voice singing “Hasa Diga Eebowai.” As stated at the top: everyone you know and love is at this party!
FACT 8: You should join the committee!
In an ideal world, prom offers an opportunity wear whatever makes you feel most beautiful and dance with the person of your choice. The world, of course, is far from ideal.
Enter the magic of theatre: a blank stage on which to build stories for groups of humans united in the same room, separated from their screens, open to experiencing someone else’s point of view. That’s what lies at the heart of this show, masterminded to move audiences from darkness to dancing into action.
Juliet Mazer-Schmidt is a Detroit-born performer, turned DC-based litigator, turned Chicago-based theatre developer – turned NYC-based all-of-the-above… and in case it’s not obvious, she is also a writer.