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Robert Viagas at The Prom

The Prom

Book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin, music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin. Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw.

Reviewed by Robert Viagas


Some of the funniest musical comedies of the 21stcentury have featured Broadway making fun of itself. Think of The Producers or the under-appreciated Something Rotten.

The Promis a glistening new addition to that list.

The show ostensibly tells the story of a teen-age lesbian who throws her conservative Indiana town into a tizzy when she announces that she plans to escort a fellow non-fellow as her date to the senior prom. An earnest Footloose-like musical could have been made from such a story. But the creators take the welcome extra step of sending a quintet of extravagantly flamboyant Broadway stars, proudly self-described as “New York liberals,” quivering with indignation and hungry for publicity, down to what they imagine to be a moral backwater in a quest to bring them goodness and light.

A terrible—and terribly funny—time is had by all, as they proceed to use their self-righteous crusade to make things incalculably worse for the young woman.

Act I sets up the premise and introduces the characters: Brooks Ashmanskas has the role of his career as an over-the-top hambone actor. Tony-winner Beth Leavel (The Drowsy Chaperone) plays a Lupone-like diva. Angie Schworer (The Producers) plays a longtime member of the cast of Broadway’s Chicagowho perpetually understudies the role of Roxie. Christopher Sieber (Spamalot) is a “between jobs” actor who can’t escape his onetime featured role on an embarrassing sitcom. Josh Lamon bustles about as their sidekick press agent.

Intermission gives you a chance to catch your breath before an Act II that consists of a barrage of bravura eleven o’clock numbers by Sklar & Beguelin (Elf, The Wedding Singer), notably “Zazz,” a Bob Fosse tribute from Schworer; “Love Thy Neighbor,” an athletic dance number for Sieber and the wildly talented chorus; “The Lady’s Improving,” a tour de force for Leavel; and the king of them all, “Barry Is Going to the Prom,” a barn-burner of a wish fulfillment song for Ashmanskas.

Scenery chomping by these theatrical T-Rexes makes Caitlin Kinnunen seem a little drab by comparison as the gay girl at the center of the whirlwind, but she busts out from time to time, especially on her Godiva truffle of an I-Want number, “I Just Want to Dance With You,” a duet with Isabelle McCalla, as her love interest.

Thanks to librettists Beguelin and Martin everybody has a lovely little story arc. And it’s not only the townspeople who learn lessons about tolerance. The Broadway people learn too, even though it costs Leavel’s character her treasured house in the Hamptons.

A lot of the show’s humor comes from inside-baseball jokes about Broadway, including references to Stephen Sondheim Lin-Manuel Miranda, Wicked, et al. But the show also takes a serious moment for “We Look to You,” in which the school principal (Michael Potts) quietly explains why people love the theatre so much.

Director/choreographer Nicholaw’s credits include some of the biggest hits of the past decade, including The Book of Mormon, Disney’s Aladdin, and Monty Python’s Spamalot. With The Prom, he hits another home run. One-tenth of all Broadway theatres are currently occupied with his shows.

The Prom is playing at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway.

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