Review: Let’s go to “The Prom”

The national touring company of “The Prom” Photo Credit: Deen van Meer

The Prom is the perfect confection for our trying times. The 2½ hour show fleets by, thanks to the exuberant dance numbers, memorable anthems, and bonafide comedy handled by a stellar ensemble. It’s based on an original concept by Jack Viertel (whose book The Secret Life of the American Musical is essential reading for theater fans) and blessed with a witty, boisterously entertaining book by Tony-award winner, Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) and six-time Tony nominee, Chad Beguelin (Aladdin).

The national touring company of “The Prom” Photo Credit: Deen van Meer

Emma (Kaden Kearney), is a high school teenage lesbian barred by the homophobic PTA from bringing her on-the-verge of coming out girlfriend to the senior prom. To the rescue come four narcissistic, critically-panned actors (“We’re gonna help that little lesbian whether she likes it or not!”) who shuttle themselves from New York to Indiana with their overworked agent to brandish some grandstanding activism in order to jumpstart their careers. The magic of this musical remains the skilful balance it maintains between the seriousness of the topic — intolerance, homophobia, disingenuous activism — and the satire of superbly vain actors, each buttressing the other and keeping the musical from sliding into preachiness.

The Prom is the perfect confection for our trying times.”

The talented ensemble bathes in camp without appearing hackneyed or stereotypical. Kaden Kearney’s Emma shows palpable vulnerability and awakens the protective instinct in all of us; Patrick Wetzel as the avuncular Barry is heartwarmingly tender beneath his old school bitchy armor, and has dance moves that could leave even high schoolers stunned; Emily Borromeo as Angie is a sexy minx whose Fosse-esque “Zazz,” where she lovingly (and flexibly) coaxes the stiff Emily to adopt some chutzpah is one of the highlights of the show; Bud Weber as the stunningly handsome but daffy, Juilliard-flaunting actor, Trent, corrals his own share of laughs and shines in the “Acceptance Song” that exposes Biblical hypocrisy. Ultimately, the production bows to the supreme diva, Dee Dee (played flawlessly by Courtney Balan) — from a distance, a blend of Streep (who played the role in the Netflix adaptation) and Edie Falco; trussed regally with deliciously quotable lines and glamor; and whose sedimented empathy has to be drawn out by her biggest fan, Principal Hawkins (Sinclair Mitchell).

The national tour kicked off at the Ahmanson on Wednesday with an audience – in tiaras and bright, vibrant attire — that glittered as much as the production. The 2019 musical, nominated for 7 Tony Awards, was glaringly shut out of any trophies, most of which were commandeered by an equally deserving, but more somber Hadestown. Watching The Prom now, when one is in dire need of uplifting, one can’t help but feel a pinch of inequity, a theme that is central to the show, and wonder — Maybe the Tonys would have been kinder had the show premiered post-pandemic?

— G. Dhalla

The Prom plays at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles through September 11th. Tickets HERE.