Almost a date
More than a light diversion, The Prom “makes you believe in musical comedy again,” said Jesse Green in The New York Times. This lively Broadway production borrows a trick from the classics of the golden age: The writers “latch on to a subject of topical importance, using its gravity to anchor their satire and their satire to leaven its earnestness.” Here, the issue is heartland homophobia. But playwrights Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin tackle it by first “holding a distorting mirror up to theater itself”: Scene 1 drops us into the opening night of a musical about Eleanor Roosevelt that’s such a disaster it prompts its co-stars to try salvaging their careers by hunting for a cause to champion. Unfortunately, Barry and Dee Dee—played by Brooks Ashmanskas and a “scarily brilliant” Beth Leavel—are such narcissists that we fear for the intended beneficiary of their activism: an Indiana teen whose school banned its prom rather than allow her to bring her girlfriend. Though many characters are cartoonish, it barely matters. This“joyful hoot” moves so fast you hardly notice the flaws.
Hoosiers in the audience might be less forgiving, said Barbara Schuler in Newsday. “For a show that preaches tolerance, there is precious little on display,” and The Prom’s “nastiest digs” target the Midwest. In one “hard-to-stomach” song, the lyrics take aim at people who live in a place “where the necks are red/And the lack of dentistry thrives.” But the characters who sing those lines are meant to look like buffoons, said Sara Holdren in NYMag.com. Shy high school senior Emma, by contrast, is never made to look ridiculous, and Caitlin Kinnunen (above right) does the character proud. She has “a clear, lovely voice,” and her big ballad, “Unruly Heart,” is “flush with feeling without turning schmaltzy.” The Prom “merrily skewers compassion-as–fashion statement, but it’s got plenty of real compassion keeping it afloat.” ■