'The Prom' review: It’s time to dance with this hilarious and inclusive musical at The Croswell
Courtesy of Croswell Opera House/James A. Molnar
The final song in “The Prom,” a kinetic and joyful musical production that’s just opened at The Croswell Opera House, is called “It’s Time to Dance,” except you’ll probably have already danced along with the tunes before this showstopper makes its grand entrance. Thanks to music by Matthew Sklar, and lyrics by Chad Beguelin, not to mention Croswell music director Leah Fox and vocal director Chelsea Cree, every song in this wholly inclusive show lands its mark and sends audiences out the door humming and feeling bubbly.
Far from revolutionary but hard to resist nonetheless, “The Prom,” which is the perfect marriage of theater and script, is a wholesome production that deals with complicated themes of sexuality, bigotry, and self-acceptance under the guise of a broad and easily digestible musical that just as much resembles “Bye Bye Birdie” as it does the likes of “Jagged Little Pill” and “Dear Evan Hansen.” (It was made for the TikTok generation before TikTok was even a thing). Still, you don’t need to be in the coveted 18-35 demographic to enjoy what “The Prom” is selling. There’s something here everyone can latch on or relate to.
Whether it’s the fear of the unknown in regards to your identity, disappointing your family members, or feeling like you’re never good enough, “The Prom” preaches a wonderful message about the strength of friendship and the resilience of being safe in your own skin. It follows high school teenager Emma (Elise Brown, delivering an honest performance), a lesbian in a small, conservative Indiana town who just wants to bring her date to the prom. The PTA, headed by the sniveling Mrs. Greene (Beth Giller, wicked as ever) and pretty much the entire town, have decided to cancel the annual shindig because, for lack of a better word, they’re very homophobic.
Elsewhere, a quartet of struggling Broadway actors who are desperately looking for a cause to rally behind so they can stay relevant, hear of Emma’s problems and decide to head cross-country and right the egregious wrong. They include Dee Dee Allen (Tallie Carter, in a sizzling performance), who has no problem utilizing her Tonys as leverage for a room upgrade, and a co-star in her recently panned musical “Eleanor,” Barry (James Norman, wonderful) who isn’t afraid of hiding his boisterously gay personality. Often in hilarious, side-splitting ways.
And finally, there’s Angie (Kirsten Hinshaw), a standby actress who seldom gets her chance as the lead; the lovably cheerful Trent (Chris Stack), a clueless non-Equity performer who never misses a chance to plug his Juilliard education and is currently touring with “Godspell,” which just so happens to be rolling through Emma’s backwoods locale; and Sheldon (Xaiver Sarabia) the crews publicist who’s grand idea of getting the word out includes booking a monster truck rally where the entire gang sings a song about acceptance. It goes over just about as well as you’d imagine. Rounding out the cast is Emma’s closted girlfriend Alyssa (Kylie Scarpace); and their empathic principal Mr. Hawkins (Alex Britton) who seems to have strong feelings for Dee Dee.
That’s a lot of characters to juggle, but the breezy presentation and easy-to-root for narrative ensures everyone is given their chance to shine. The melodies are catchy and the lyrics pop, particularly the Act 2 banger “Love Thy Neighbor” in which Trent cheekily points the finger back at the bigoted teenagers who ousted Emma and showcases their hypocrisies through the power of song. It’s a memorable tune that’s worth the price of admission and Stack, alongside a dedicated ensemble of local teeangers, nearly brought the house to its feet. Likewise for Carter’s larger-than-life rendition of “The Lady’s Improving” where she pulls out all the bells and whistles to capture the attention of Mr. Hawkins.
But they are not the only ones who manage to steal the spotlight. Hinshaw is magnetic during “Zazz,” a fun riff inspired by the musical “Chicago,” Brown and Scarpace have outstanding chemistry and will melt your heart during their duet “Dance With You;” and of course Norman lets loose during the spirited number “Barry is Going to Prom.”
In other words, director Matthew D. Bowland has assembled a strong pool of actors from the surrounding areas to bring this musical to life. His scenes have good rhythm and placement (this despite some of the clunky set changes during the matinee I attended) and the pace of the show, which clocks just a fraction over the two hour marker with intermission, is smooth sailing. Britton’s impressive scenic work authentically replicates the high school experience while Alyssa Brutlag’s choreography brings the heat, especially during the aforementioned “Love Thy Neighbor” where the entire cast lays it all out on the stage.
“The Prom” is a musical some could be unfamiliar with and though Bob Martin’s script can occasionally stand in its own way, it’s still a great time at the theater. It also puts a little more compassion back in the world at a time when society is often divided and cruel, especially as it pertains to the LGTBQ+ community and the hateful, discriminatory legislation being passed across the country. I commend The Croswell for mounting this production and giving teeangers and children who may identify with both Emma and Alyssa an opportunity to see themselves on stage.
The Croswell’s production of THE PROM continues through September 24th. Tickets can be purchased by visiting the website here.