This year, the Tony Awards will take place on June 9 at Radio City Musical Hall in New York City. As part of our countdown to the biggest night on Broadway, we’re spotlighting some of this year’s most nominated productions.
Nominated for seven Tony Awards, The Prom is the only Best Musical nominee that’s not based on pre-existing source material (it is, however, already being adapted into a Netflix movie and a YA novel). Directed and choreographed by nominee Casey Nicholaw, The Prom tells the story of a high school student in Indiana who becomes shunned by her small town for daring to be herself. This bold musical is full of hilarity, hijinks, poignant social commentaries, and ultimately, heartwarming joy.
Emma just wants to have the same prom experience as everyone else in her class. An out lesbian, she wants to bring her (still closeted) girlfriend as her date so the two can enjoy this teenage milestone together just like other couples. In fact, her girlfriend, Alyssa, plans to use the evening as an opportunity to come out to her homophobic family. But when Emma’s plans become known to other students and to the conservative PTA – led by Alyssa’s mother – the prom is canceled altogether. Ironically, though, their attempts to silence Emma put their town on the map in a way none of them ever saw coming.
Meanwhile, a group of Broadway actors in New York get panned for their new show. The criticism they receive paints them all as insufferable narcissists who have long forgotten how to empathize with other human beings. In a last-ditch publicity effort to prove their critics wrong, they stumble upon Emma’s story on Twitter. Viewing this as their golden ticket, they decide to travel to Indiana to become the face of the revolution to reinstate prom and ensure that Emma is allowed to attend with whoever the girl of her dreams may be.
Without giving too much away, it’s safe to say that the journey of acceptance and understanding that many of the characters go through is depicted beautifully. For a musical that keeps you chuckling practically from top to bottom, The Prom succeeds by also including plenty of tender moments that will have audiences as moved as they are sore from laughter.
For those who argue that The Prom is too heavy-handed or political, consider just how important it is for a LGBTQ+ youth to be presented with such positive and celebratory stories. They serve as a counter to the anger directed towards them and the attempts to belittle them constantly seen playing out in the news.
Since his first day occupying the White House, Trump has waged a war on the LGBTQ+ community as a consistent form of throwing red meat to his base. Whether its banning them from serving in the military, rolling back healthcare protections, or sanctioning discrimination in places from prisons to homeless shelters, Trump and his cronies have made it their mission to undo all of the progress and safeguards for transgender Americans that President Obama put in place. Powerful positions have been given to a myriad of people with clearly documented discriminatory records against LGBTQ+ individuals, from Mike Pence to countless federal judges. Even last week, it was reported that the Trump administration was actively seeking ways to make it easier for adoption agencies to reject same-sex parents. Sadly, this list just goes on and on.
In fact, those who maintain we need to separate entertainment from politics and find another avenue for this conversation need only look at the asinine backlash that The Prom got for featuring a same-sex kiss during Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade last year.
“Millions of small children just watched two girls kiss and had their innocence broken this morning,” tweeted conservative group For America in response to the televised performance. “@nbc and @Macys just blindsided parents who expected this to be a family program, so they could push their agenda on little kids.”
Although it’s a comedy, The Prom is a touching story that’s designed to open the eyes of some audience members while helping others who attend it to feel seen, safe and not alone.
As Emma, Tony nominee Caitlin Kinnunen is sensational. Her powerful performance is filled with passion, vulnerability and soaring vocals. In the hands of another actress, Emma could very well come across as overly fragile. Yet Kinnunen brilliantly underlines her character’s bravery and strength, arming her with confidence and intelligence well beyond her years.
As Dee Dee and Barry, the comedic centers of the show, Tony nominees Beth Leavel and Brooks Ashmanskas are laugh-out-loud fabulous. Playing the out-of-touch and self-serving New York actors who come to rehab their images, their genuine moral evolution becomes as refreshing for the audience as it is surprising for their characters. While accidentally learning the true meaning of selflessness, Dee Dee and Barry actually achieve what they only intended to pretend to do – all thanks to one particularly courageous young woman.
Now playing at the Longacre Theatre, The Prom is complete with lots of heart, fantastic performances, a rousing contemporary score by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, and a feel-good story with an important lesson. A terrific standout in this Broadway season, it’s a perfect show for the whole family.
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PHOTOS | DEEN VAN MEER