“The Prom” is for everyone

For one week only, April 19-24, 2022, you have the opportunity to attend The Prom at the Cadillac Palace Theater. Don’t worry if you think that you aren’t going to fit it, or someone isn’t going to like you, because The Prom is for Everyone.

Set in the fictional small conservative town of Edgewater, Indiana, The Prom, directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, takes us on a journey through self-realization. From Emma (Kaden Kearney), the high school student who simply wants to take her girlfriend to her prom, to the Broadway stars who swoop in to try to do something good to prove they are not narcissists, this musical comedy will make you laugh, cry and think.

On Broadway, stars Dee Dee Allen (Courtney Balan) and Barry Glickman (Patrick Wetzel) discover that their new musical, Eleanor Roosevelt the Musical, is a total flop and will be closed immediately. Their agent Sheldon Saperstein (Shavey Brown) breaks the news to them and they are consoled by their friends Angie (Emily Borromeo), a chorus girl for Chicago, and Trent Oliver (Bud Weaver), Juilliard graduate. In a comical display of selfish narcissism, the group decide they need to try to create some positive press by doing a good deed. By chance, they come across Emma’s story and make it their cause.

This group of actors work so well together. Their comedic timing is on point, and voices blend perfectly. The roles they playing are meta—they are Broadway actors playing Broadway actors in a production for Broadway in Chicago—and they absolutely crush it without overpowering or upstaging each other. The best part is they absolutely love playing these characters and it shows in their performance.

We meet Emma in the hallway at school when she sings “Just Breathe” in which she reminds herself that this sort of cruelty doesn’t come from everyone as her classmates make jokes and tell her that she is hated multiple times. Emma is a sweet, loveable, awkward teen who simply wants to be allowed to go to the prom with her girlfriend. Kaden captures this perfectly from the way she stands to her gestures to express embarrassment and nervousness. The principal of her high school, Mr. Hawkins (Sinclair Mitchell) is on her side, standing up to the head of the PTA, Mrs. Greene (Ashanti J’Aria) and pushing for an inclusive prom. The conversative PTA takes the stance that, if there is one gay couple at the prom, then <gasp!> it is a gay prom. 

Cue the group from Broadway coming in to take center stage at the PTA meeting, complicating things more with “It’s Not About Me.” The song is fun just displaying Dee Dee’s self-centeredness, but it also shows what can be interpreted as the viewpoint of the PTA. It is a well-written, funny but also poignant song showing how easily misunderstandings happen. The PTA thinks that Mr. Hawkins brought in the group and do not budge on their stance of canceling the prom. It is after this moment that the big reveal of who Emma’s girlfriend is: Alyssa Greene (Kalyn West), the daughter of the head of the PTA. They share a sweet moment during the song “Dance with You” as they describe how amazing the prom will be, mostly because it will be when Alyssa comes out to her mom and everyone. 

With the best of intentions, the Broadway actors hold a rally to inspire action on Emma’s behalf but can only book the halftime show at a Monster Truck Rally. They perform “The Acceptance Song” written by Trent, and the response is less than what they hoped for. The message of the song is beautiful and their intentions are so pure, but this is definitely not the right platform for their rally. Their halftime show is endearingly comical, with a feeling of “ We are the World” to it and a bit of a star broadway show mixed in. 

The state’s attorney rules that the school must hold a prom, and Emma is excited. Promposals happen at the school during the song “You Happened,” including Emma asking Alyssa. With the help of the Broadway actors, specifically Barry, Emma gets ready for the Prom only to be disappointed and heartbroken. Upon arrival at the school gym, Emma finds herself alone. The PTA organized a separate location for all the other students and the one at the school was just for Emma. Alyssa’s mom takes her to prom and she is confused and shocked. She asks her mom why they aren’t at the gym, and her mom brushes it off and says it’s for the best. Emma got her prom, and this is for everyone else. 

Emma’s heartbreak and embarrassment are palpable. Barry, Dee Dee, Trent, and Angie try to make her feel better, but it is no use. She is angry at everyone, but specifically Alyssa. Emma begs her to come to the high school gym, but Alyssa feels that she cannot because her mother is watching her every move. It is a no-win situation for her at that moment. 

One of my favorite parts of the production happens right after the intermission. Angie tries to help Emma build her confidence to go on TV to talk about what is happening in Edgewater in the best way she knows how. Using her years of experience as a chorus-girl for Chicago, Angie shares her secret for being successful during the song “Zazz.” The choreography in this number is perfect and Emily Borromeo is wonderful performing it.  The interaction between Emma and Angie is sisterly and endearing and helps Emma realize the best way how to spread her message.

The Prom is wonderful because it gives us the perspective of Emma throughout the entire production, but it also gives sneak peeks into other characters as well. “Alyssa Greene,” performed by Alyssa, is an unassuming little song that packs a gut punch as she sings to Emma trying to get her to see things from her perspective. It speaks to the pressure she feels, mostly from her mother, her fear of coming out to her, and all the small things her mother says to her that make her feel she needs to be perfect. 

Emma asks Barry if he will go to the prom with her. He is so excited and can’t believe it. He never got to go to his own prom, so of course he says yes. “Barry is Going to Prom” is pure joy in song form. In his motel room, he expresses his joy that after 29 years he is finally going to prom. Jumping from bed to bed, he reflects back on the prom he missed.

The ensemble in this production of The Prom is wonderful. From the dancing to the costumes, designed by Ann Roth and Matthew Pachtman, they move through the story bringing it to life, especially in “Love Thy Neighbor,” in which Trent Oliver turns the rationalization for not allowing Emma to bring her girlfriend to the prom on its head. Emma’s classmates say that being gay is wrong, that it is in the Bible, but Trent points out all the things that they do that the Bible says are ‘wrong.” But the one thing that is in the Bible that everyone can and should agree on is to love thy neighbor. 

Emma’s plan to get her message out there is to record herself singing a song. “Unruly Heart” gets to the heart of the matter: that this heart is the best part of Emma, and it resonates with so many people it goes viral. In the song itself, we get to hear some of the responses to her video, and they show Emma is not alone. Teenagers from across the country respond, telling their story, and a lot of them are similar to Emma’s. The Broadway actors are so proud of her, they all donate to throw an all-inclusive prom.

“It’s Time to Dance” wraps up the story, and leaves the audience wanting more. From the high energy dance number, to the fact that Barry gets a crown, it is everything Emma had hoped for and more. Kids from across the state come to attend the prom, and it is perfect. They build a prom for everyone, and in the small town of Edgewater, Indiana, they show them it can be done. The town is more accepting and the Broadway actors finally understand that this is how things should be done, that it isn’t always about you, and that you can do nice things for people without expecting anything in return but the feeling of a job well done.

The Prom plays through Sunday 4/24 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. For tickets, see Broadway in Chicago’s web site.

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