The Column Online



Music By Matthew Sklar
Lyrics By Chad Beguelin
Book By Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin
Original concept by Jack Viertel

AT&T Performing Arts Center

CASEY NICHOLAW- Direction & Choreography
CHRIS GURR- Music Direction
SCOTT PASK- Scenic Design
ANN ROTH- Costume Design
NATASHA KATZ- Lighting Design
BRIAN RONAN- Sound Design
JOSH MARQUETTE- Wig & Hair Design
KELSEY TIPPINS- Production Stage Manager
JUSTIN MYHRE- Stage Manager
BEN SHIPLEY- Assistant Stage Manager
MARY-MITCHELL CAMPBELL- Music Supervision, Vocal Arrangements
LARRY HOCHMAN- Orchestrations
JOHN CLANCY- Additional Orchestrations
GLEN KELLY-Music Arrangements

KALYN WEST- Alyssa Greene
LEXIE PLATH- Dee Dee Allen**
PATRICK WETZEL- Barry Glickman
EMILY BORROMEO- Angie Dickinson
BUD WEBER- Trent Oliver
MR. HAWKINS- Sinclair Mitchell
SHAVEY BROWN- Sheldon Saperstein
KAYLEE- Alexa Magro
SHELBY- Chlde Rae Kehm**
Alyssa- Kalyn West
KEVIN-Marcus Phillips
MOTEL CLERK- Thad Turner Wilson

**UNDERSTUDY (who performed at reviewed performance)

Reviewed Performance: 7/21/2022

Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Theater Critic/Editor/Founder, THE COLUMN. Member, AMERICAN THEATRE CRITICS ASSOCIATION for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

In April 2016 I had the distinguished honor of being invited by one of the producers to review the out-of-town tryout of the new musical THE PROM which was bound for Broadway. The musical was having its world premiere at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia. I came to find out that in fact, I was the only out-of-state critic invited.

After the show, my best friend who came with me and I walked Tony Award winner Beth Leavel (who created the role of “Dee Dee Allen”) back to her hotel. When we arrived, we got into a deep discussion at length about the show, she was so passionate about the sheer enjoyment she was having in creating a brand-new role from the ground up. We chatted about the score and book. But then the conversation turned to the subject matter of the piece. Here’s where she spoke passionately of its message, and I agreed wholeheartedly about her comments, I felt so passionately that it was the heart of this incredibly moving and very special new musical. This all happened in 2016, the year before gay marriage had just been passed by the Supreme court, and on that evening in 2016, we were in the heat of a Presidential election, where gay and women’s rights were topics being thrown around and in danger if a certain man wins the Presidency. I said that evening and felt so deeply that this musical desperately needs to land on Broadway as fast as possible because of its message. Especially with all that political noise that by then had become a roar spinning around the nation. Let this musical’s message about love and acceptance, of just allowing human beings to be happy and love who they wish to love freely without the fear of being thrown out of their communities, schools, or worse-attacked or harmed. We were all in agreement on that crisp Fall night.

It would take almost three years later, but THE PROM finally made it to the Great White Way at the Longacre Theatre in October 2018. It would play 309 performances before shutting down in August 2019. The national tour was announced to kick off in February 2021, but COVID arrived and delayed the tour, but it finally did hit the road in November 2021. THE PROM did win BEST MUSICAL at the Drama Desk Awards and received six Tony Award nominations, sadly taking no awards home.

But the tour has finally arrived at the Winspear opera house! Overall, it is for the most part, a side-splitting, hilarious evening of musical theater heaven. There are missing dance sections in some musical numbers, pieces of scenery cut, and a smaller cast than what was seen in Atlanta and New York. But the heart, passion, and talent are all still there in solid dedication to tell the story within this high-caliber company.

Scott Pask’s scenic design did not change that much from Atlanta to NYC to the tour in its originality, where it changed was in its construction. In Atlanta, the high school and the gym were made of caramel-colored wood doors and walls, platforms, a bigger bedroom for Emma, a much larger hotel lobby, and an Applebee’s that stretched across the width of the stage. In the finale prom, it was heavily decorated, with loads of streamers, twinkling strings of lights, etc. These sets transferred to the Longacre in New York with a few adjustments. But for the tour, it seems they made cuts here and there. Gone are the various high-level platforms at the high school, the high school and gym are now painted backdrops, and Emma’s bedroom, the hotel lobby, and Applebee’s have all been shrunken in width quite a lot, so there is a lot of open space on either side. Also in Atlanta, the hotel lobby had a flown-in wall of the worst wallpaper created, that was cut out as well. And as for the finale prom, there was a lot less of the dazzling bells and whistles from its Atlanta and Broadway counterparts. Having said that, the sets were still beautifully constructed and gave so much life to the story. Plus, they were a welcome sight from the constant visual attack of projections splashed on a huge back wall as many musicals are beginning to use a lot more of nowadays.

Ann Roth and Matthew Pachtman’s costumes are still fantastic since the Atlanta tryout and Broadway run. DeeDee is always dressed like a Broadway diva should dress, with lots of sparkle for red carpet events, and bright colors and leopard prints for day wear. For the two prom scenes, the prom costumes for the company give the musical numbers an extra bump of energy with their vibrant colors and an explosion of sequins, rhinestones, and shimmering fabrics. Where I was sitting I could see their footwear clearly, and they were also sewn with sequins and stones!

She can never go wrong with her artistry of lighting design, and in THE PROM, Tony Award winner Natasha Katz does it again. She knows how to add just the right touches of emotional colors, both upstage and downstage to fit the mood of a musical number. But when it comes to big, showstopping dance numbers, she pulls out all the stops!

The one minor hiccup in the design production team unfortunately was in the wig and hair design, the majority of Josh Marquette’s wigs were coiffed exquisitely. Except for Emma’s wig. Oh my. I knew the look was supposed to be a carefree girl who doesn’t care about frivolous things like hairstyles. But the wig looked smushed and squashed in on one side as though it was on a test dummy used in a car accident demonstration. Regrettably, the way it is placed on the poor actress’s head, it looked slightly askew. The back of the wig did not sit well in the back, it popped out so it was a tiny constant reminder of, “it’s a wig”. At intermission, one of my close friends, who was sitting in the mezzanine section commented on her wig before anyone else did. So if she saw it that far up, that tells you how noticeable it was.

One of the biggest highlights of the evening was the electrifying, smashing, and incredible triple-threat talents of the ensemble that made up the teens who go to the Indiana High School. They may not have much to say in terms of the book, but their reactions and non-verbal communication were very natural and aided so much in giving the scenes rich emotional strength of truth and sealing it in organic reality. I despise ensembles that do that ole director’s note, “stand here and just mouth peas and carrots, peas and carrots”. IT SHOWS ON STAGE! It gives ensemble/crowd scenes a thick, soggy, blanket of “cheap musical theater acting”. Do your homework, EVERY person on stage is vital. And this teen ensemble knows it and avoids that pothole all evening long. The vocals and their harmonies were pure ear candy. Their best vocal work came in Act II with my personal favorite ballad in the score, “Unruly Heart”. Their facial expressions and full commitment to the number were just so beautiful to observe, it’s one of the best musical numbers of the evening. But when it came to the dazzling, tremendously energetic, dance off your corsages and cummerbunds in the two prom finales, they went FULL-OUT and left it all on the dance floor! Their execution of the choreography, their facial expressions, and their commitment was flawless. Ensembles can bring amazing life to a musical or kill it. The ensemble of THE PROM not only holds their own but they also actually at times steal the show from the principals!

One ensemble member, in particular, stood out above the rest. Sometimes there are those performers who have that unique, rare stage presence that forces audience members to keep returning their focus back on them. Not because they are stealing focus or being over the top. But because they are so into the moment, the music, the choreography, etc. Rarely does an ensemble member pop out like an explosive ball of fire, but that is what Josh Zacher achieved Tuesday evening. All evening long, my attention kept returning to him to see how he was executing the choreography (magnificently), while his facial expressions showed such enthusiasm that you can’t help but smile. I was not only amazed but extremely impressed that during some dance breaks he had to travel and maneuver within the complicated choreography from downstage all the way to the back row to the complete opposite side of upstage, going thru the crowd of other dancers-all while doing the choreography! Then in Act II came “Unruly Heart”, and Zacher was staged on a tiny box (as some others were as well), to give levels visually for the ballad. Zacher’s facial expressions were deeply moving as he emotionally felt each lyric. I was genuinely touched by his emotional connection to the song. He didn’t attempt to yank any focus from the lead vocalist (Emma) but instead shared a small look into his character’s heart. You don’t need lines to let the audience know your characterization. His technique and execution as a dancer were superior and flawless. This makes sense since he was recently promoted to Assistant Dance Captain within the company.

As the quiet, shy gay teen who just wants to go to her prom and take her girlfriend as her date, Kaden Kearney delivers a luminous performance as Emma. She colors her characterization with strong, profound colors that made Emma a mighty warrior against the small-town homophobia she was facing not only in the halls of her high school but also in the streets of her hometown. Kearney possesses a lithe soprano voice that has a soft, light coating of Alanis Morrissette. Kearney gets to wrap her remarkable vocals around some great solos and duets within this fantastic score, such as “Just Breathe” and the outstanding ballad, “Unruly Heart”. She has some great duets as well, including the romantically lush “Dance with You” with Alyssa (Kalyn West) and the frothy festive dance duo “Zazz” with the fantastic Emily Borromeo (Angie). Kearney is surrounded by Broadway diva stars with BIG personalities, but she keeps her acting craft grounded in realism, thus letting the audience be right next to her on her painful, yet cathartic journey because of her acting choices. She is sensational and wins the audience’s heart.

On Press night, understudy Lexie Plath went on as the two-time Tony Award-winning Broadway legend, Dee Dee Allen. The role is normally played by Courtney Balan. Plath has an INCREDIBLE set of power vocal pipes! Can she belt! What I admired so much about this belter is that she also has a vigorous vibrato that aids in giving her belt delicious vocal color. Her vocal numbers like “Changing Lives”, “It’s Not About Me”, and “The Lady’s Improving” were vocal smash hits. While Ms. Plath was humorous throughout the evening, she didn’t go far enough with the comedy, regarding going full out with her comedic timing, pace, delivery, and using her facial expressions and body. The role was originated by the comedic goddess herself, Beth Leavel. The role was specifically written for her with her voice and talents in mind. The role IS the STAR of THE PROM. Period. But try as she might Ms. Plath never attempted to go for the huge comic payoffs that are written in the book and lyrics. There were also times when her co-stars set them up right there for her, but she simply either missed or didn’t notice them. That role can be a character that has the audience howling in uproarious laughter. I so badly wanted Plath to at least try. But she did not. Ms. Plath was delightfully entertaining, but the role is so, so much more than what we saw Tuesday evening.

It was Patrick Wetzel as Barry Glickman who stole the Prom queen tiara as the star of THE PROM Tuesday evening. Barry is Dee Dee’s frequent co-star. They both had just opened the musical, Eleanor!: The Eleanor Roosevelt Story, she was Eleanor (naturally) and he was Teddy. The show flopped! Barry is bigger than life, outrageous, flamboyant, and very gay. Wetzel’s creation of Barry is comedic finesse. He uses his voice, body, and facial expressions to bring Barry to outlandish life! His comedic talents were among the best among the principals. His big 11 O’clock number “Barry is Going to the Prom” is a comedic hurricane of energy and laughs, all thanks to Wetzel’s talents.

Trent Oliver is portrayed hilariously by Bud Weber. Trent is an actor who graduated from Juilliard (and he’ll remind you of it!) and is about to hit the road in a Non-Equity tour of GODSPELL, in which our trio of Broadway stars tag along to rescue Emma. Oliver expertly bathes Trent in serious method actor mode, who refuses to accept his review clippings. They are not positive at all, but he memorized them nonetheless. The FUNNIEST two company numbers are vocally led by Oliver and his splendid comedic gifts. Those two numbers are “The Acceptance Song” and “Love Thy Neighbor”. The first involves his GODSPELL castmates and his Broadway friends, and the location is a monster truck rally. For all of us actors, techies, etc. who had done GODSPELL, or have sat through a production of GODSPELL (good or bad, and I’ve sat through both!)- prepare yourself! It is a hysterical, side-splitting musical number because of the staging, the costumes, the make-up, and the INSANE bits they do. This number will leave you laughing loudly in your seat even past the blackout! The other musical number, “Love Thy Neighbor” takes place in front of a mock 7-11 type convenience store. Trent has confronted the teens (there’s that excellent teen ensemble again!) on what they did to Emma in Act I. From there (once again with his GODSPELL castmates) he uses his glorious tenor vocals to sing this country-fried/gospel-flavored Sunday Service song that is HILARIOUS! And those lyrics! It’s downright a laugh-out riot of a song that the teen ensemble with the GODSPELL cast created, led by Weber that it becomes a showstopping, monster hit musical number! The title of the song should tell you all you need to know. Bud Weber wrings every last drop of laughter he can from the lyrics of both of these numbers and his book scenes with his first-rate comedic talents! He’s a smash hit in THE PROM!

Also within this talented company providing spectacular performances include:

Kalyn West as Alyssa, who is the “still in the closet” girlfriend to Emma. She is equipped with a beautiful soprano voice that matches perfectly with Kearney in their numbers “Dance with You” and “You Happened”. She also has a sweet solo with “Alyssa Greene”. Her chemistry with Kearney is honest, touching, and will tug at your heart all evening. She is simply wonderful.

Emily Borromeo is terrific as “Angie Dickinson”, the Broadway hoofer who has worked with Fosse forever but has been stuck in the musical CHICAGO forever, she finally has the jazz hands strength to quit the show and join the cause of fighting for Emma. Borromeo is sublime and jovial in the big, splashy, sexy, Fosse-infused number, “Zazz”. She shimmers like the rhinestones on her boots!

Sinclair Mitchell portrays Mr. Hawkins, the high school principal who has a huge heart and fully supports Emma’s cause. He also has caught every show Dee Dee has done and loves musical theater, but he’s straight! GASP! What? Mitchell does an extraordinary job with this character. His comedic talents hit all the right buttons, and he does an exquisite job with his ballad, “We Look to you”. It was very moving and touched by the wonderful reactions that came from the audience when Dee Dee and Mr. Hawkins kissed. It was a sweet, touching, romantic moment, and we all loved it.

As the talent agent Sheldon Saperstein, Shavey Brown did something that the actor in Atlanta failed to do-he made this character stand out as an equal to the talents of the Broadway divas he’s babysitting, I mean assisting. In Atlanta, I forgot the role was there most of the time. But Brown created this bigger-than-life, hilarious agent with sizzling comedic chops that received applause a couple of times from Tuesday night’s audience. Brown had impeccable comedic timing and had a mirthful way of using his voice and volume to give his punch lines that extra bump to get a bigger laugh. Oh and kids, get ready to see what he does during “The Acceptance Song”, I died laughing! Brown is splendid!

THE PROM is a musical that punches your funny bone over and over, squeezes your heart throughout the evening, and its songs will put a lump in your throat. There is again fear and hatred spewing out in our nation just because people love differently. It’s not a choice, it’s from birth that this is in a heart and soul of a human being. This is the perfect musical to take your family, relatives, friends, co-workers, or colleagues that just don’t understand “them”. The humor, truth, heartbreak, and honest resolution might-just might-cause a chip or crack in their stone-cold hearts to see them with new eyes. Isn’t it time that we all just try to get along? THE PROM’s story and music just might crack an inch in their minds that maybe-just maybe-they might begin to see that everyone is after the same thing. Love. Acceptance among your peers and community. And most of all ……to go to prom with the person you love. Or to go anywhere with the person who has your heart. Isn’t that what we all want? Why is that so hard?

AT&T Performing Arts Center, Winspear Opera House
Playing through July 31

Masks are requested, regardless of vaccination status.
Runtime: 2 hours and 25 minutes with one intermission
Age Recommendation: 12+