Emily Shroering, Jericah Greene, & Annie Weible & Company in The Prom. Photo: Pandora

The Prom

Book by Bob Martin & Chad Beguilin
Lyrics by Chad Beguilin, music by Matthew Sklar
Based on an original concept by Jack Viertel
Directed by Brian Gligor

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

The United States seems to have been at war with itself over LGBTQA+ issues for several years now and the struggle continues. Bakeries and county clerks  won’t make wedding cakes or issue marriage licenses for same-sex weddings claiming it violates religious freedom and the conversation about bathrooms is just absurd.

In 2010, Constance McMillen was not allowed to bring her girlfriend to the Itawamba County Agricultural High School prom, in a case that ignited media attention across the world. The incident inspired this effervescent musical comedy.

But the action begins on Broadway, immediately following the opening night of Eleanor! A new musical about Eleanor Roosevelt starring Dee Dee Allen (Heidi Platt) and Barry Glickman (Michael J. Drury). When the reviews are posted it is a disaster that closes after only one performance.  Along with two less famous but equally narcissistic compatriots Angie Dickinson (Emily Schroering), and Trent Oliver (Brian Gligor), they concoct a plan to find a “cause” to champion in order to demonstrate their selflessness.

Emma (Annie Weible), a 17-year-old lesbian in Elkwater, Indiana wants to go to her senior prom with the girl she loves. The community is opposed and chooses to not hold a prom at all rather than endure a same-sex couple in attendance. So our comically narcissistic celebrities find their cause.

Even without a star-studded adaptation on Netflix, you might guess what happens next, but the book by Bob Martin & Chad Beguilin gives it all a fresh feel, and the details in the characterizations from a strong cast make it very funny. The one unexpected twist I won’t give away, but The Prom only has the noblest intentions; to teach that tolerance and inclusion are always the better choice and to keep us laughing and dancing along the way.

Pandora Productions has always done well with their musicals, but this collaboration with ACT pushes the envelope on the dancing, as the chorus sings and dances a LOT. It’s a nod to old-school musical structure, and besides the principles, there are a handful of nimble young artists who take flight in fine fashion. The spirited choreography is by Daniel Scofield.

Cast & audience members during intermission. Photo: Keith Waits

And that emphasis on dance is carried over into intermission, during which cast and audience, many in prom attire, dance to some greatest hits from the disco era. Prom is an emotional touchstone for most of us it seems, whether the memory is happy or melancholy, and it easily generates a depth of feelings in us. Feeling disappointed is common. Is it ever what we imagine or dream it will be? So I think it easy to identify Emma’s isolation and dissociation from the popular crowd and celebrate her defiance.

It’s easy to admire Heidi Platt’s numbskull diva Dee Dee, and she nails the brassy and self-absorbed nature of the character, while Michael Drury relishes every sarcastic note of Barry, and is the first of the big shots to truly begin to connect with Emma, but Anna Weible is the true anchor of the production, giving Emma integrity, a distinct homespun lack of glamour (an important contrast here), but still winning appeal, and strong, well-phrased vocals. 

Jericah Greene is very good as Alyssa, the object of Emma’s affection, at first a cipher but eventually given her own moment of empowerment. The relationship between these two young women is so crucial to making The Prom something more than a frothy, facetious, pop-culture exercise. There is a real, heartbreaking story at the center of the show, and these two performances keep the audience connected to it.

Director Brian Gligor and Emily Schroering fill out the facetious fun, Gligor making Trent (the name is perfect) a vainglorious star-in-waiting who will forever be waiting, a perfect satire of every preening male star who settled for the lead in a mediocre cable show, but who finds an unexpected new path for himself along the way, while Schroering makes the most of her big number, “Zazz”, every bit as sassy and slinky as the Bob Fosse spoof requires. Gligor stepped in as a last minute substitute, and Alex Craig will be playing Trent after the opening weekend.

Jason Brent Button effectively stands up to the quartet of divas as the earnest, dedicated Edgewater High School principal, Hawkins (and displays some impressive acrobatic skill), and Sage Martin manages not to be embarrassed in the thankless role of Mrs. Greene, who leads the killjoys in denying Emma her prom. Zachary Trinkle is given a better character to play in Sheldon Saperstein, the agent, manager, or something to the narcissists, who is always flying offstage to accomplish some task or another.

I find the score to be just engaging enough, not great but good enough for good players to kick up a good time. Musical Director Angie Hopperton keeps the score tight, and Nick Dent’s lighting delivers a cocktail of every prom scene of the last 40 years across the simple, effective vertical planes of the set.

However much silly fun it is, The Prom speaks to our time, the ongoing and fluid conversation about gender identity and sexual relationships that seem to be making huge forward progress while also confronting strident resistance. Every step forward comes at a price and the struggle never can take any milestone for granted. All ground must be fought for and continually defended.

Featuring Jason Brent Button, Grace Cuenca, Alex Craig, Rachel Disney, Michael J. Drury, Brian Gligor (1st weekend only), Jericah Greene, Sage Martin, Field Oldham, Heidi Platt, T Russell, Emily Schroering, Zachary Trinkle, & Annie Weible

Company: Grayson Boehm, Keegan Conner, Maggie Hugues, Mariah Jones, Aliya McCoy, & Eliza Smith

The Prom

August 11, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, & 26 @ 7:30 pm
August 13 & 19 @ 2:30 pm 
August 20 @ 5:30 pm
August 14 & 21 @ 7:00 pm

Pandora Productions/ACT Louisville Productions
The Henry Clay Theater
604 S. Third Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.