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The Prom

a Musical Comedy
by Bob Martin (book), Matthew Sklar (music), Chad Beguelin (lyrics & book)

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Woodruff Art Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 4948

SHOWING : August 18, 2016 - September 25, 2016



Everyone’s got their issues—but for Emma, hers are a national headline. She becomes an instant outcast—and news story—when her high school cancels the prom rather than let her attend with her girlfriend. Sensing a chance to correct an injustice—and maybe get some good publicity along the way—a group of fading Broadway stars takes up the cause, and invades Emma’s small Indiana town. But their bumbling attempts at social activism make the situation far worse than they—or Emma—could have ever imagined. Cultures clash and the town erupts in chaos. The community’s reputation, Emma’s future, and the actors’ careers all hang in the balance, until a true hero emerges to save the day. Uproarious and uplifting with show-stopping dance numbers, this new musical is about inspiring people to accept their differences, being the star you were always meant to be, and that age old truth: there’s no business like getting in other people’s.

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This Is a Very Bad Review
by playgoer
Thursday, September 1, 2016
The heading above is a quote from an initial scene in "The Prom," in which Broadway star Dee Dee Allen hears excerpts from a review that has closed her new show on opening night. To reclaim acclaim, she and a few other performers decide to become activists in support of a newsworthy cause. In this case, it’s a prom in Heaven, Indiana that has been canceled due to a lesbian student’s professed intention to bring a female date. The resulting musical is an uncomfortable combination of two duck-out-of-water stories: a sweet one concerning a pair of high school lesbians and a brassy, smarmy one concerning New York-centric Broadway performers forced to experience life in Middle America. Smarm predominates.

Songwriters Chad Beguelin (nifty lyrics) and Matthew Sklar (bouncy music) have created an upbeat score that generally works well (although starting the show with an instrumental version of the repetitive "Love Thy Neighbor" is a misstep by music arranger Glen Kelly). Particularly in the second act, I found myself thinking "this is working" during the musical numbers, with a competing thought of "this isn’t" during book portions.

The book is a collaboration between Bob Martin of "The Drowsy Chaperone" fame and Mr. Beguelin. The second-act number "The Lady’s Improving" is extremely reminiscent of "The Drowsy Chaperone," and it features Dee Dee Allen (Beth Leavel) and high school principal Mr. Hawkins (Martin Moran), both of whom give broad performances verging on the grotesque. Director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw hasn’t created a consistent tone for the show, and an overriding lack of sincerity seriously damages it.

Brooks Ashmanskas (as fey performer Barry Glickman) and Caitlin Kinnunen (as lesbian Emma) embody what is right about the show. Mr. Ashmanskas gives a sharply etched comic performance, but there’s an underlying sincerity that shines through all his shtick. Ms. Kinnunen is sincerity personified. They create characters we care about.

Barry Glickman and Dee Dee Allen are joined in their activist quest by two other Broadway performers: long-time chorus gypsy Angie (Angie Schworer) and waiter/touring "Godspell" star Trent Oliver (Christopher Sieber). They seem to be included in the plot merely as conveniences to have transportation to Indiana (on the "Godspell" tour bus) and to have a female dancing lead. Both performers are fine, I suppose, but their joining of the activist quest doesn’t seem well-motivated.

Choreography is a mixed bag. Ensemble movement is generally quite good, but I found the big dance numbers at the end of both acts to be blandly generic. It doesn’t help that Mr. Sieber and Ms. Leavel aren’t talented hoofers, which is all too glaringly obvious when the lyrics force Dee Dee Allen go into a "dance break," which consists of a couple of poses before the chorus sweeps in to finish the number. Mr. Ashmanskas is a gifted dancer, putting the other leads to shame in group numbers. Ms. Schworer shines choreographically only in her big number, "Zazz."

Singing voices are terrific across the board, except for Anna Grace Barlow as closeted lesbian girlfriend Alyssa, whose small voice is not well-suited to the range of her big number (which is staged, perhaps consciously, to avoid applause at the end). Music director Mary-Mitchell Campbell gives a nice, big, Broadway sound to the musical, which Peter Hylenski’s sound design over-amplifies.

Production elements are good. Scott Pask’s set design accomplishes scene changes deftly, although the final prom scene decorations are overblown and not very attractive. Costumes, by Ann Roth and Matthew Pachtman, work well, and Kenneth Posner’s lighting design uses just the right level of effects to add interest without drawing unwanted attention. Josh Marquette’s hair design likewise doesn’t draw unwanted attention to itself.

In its current form, "The Prom" doesn’t really work, although audiences seem to be eating it up. There are elements of the artifice of conception that made "The Drowsy Chaperone" a sheer delight, but here it’s joined like Frankenstein’s monster to a smaller-scale story that has its own problems, particularly in its schematic representation of small-town bigotry. Courtenay Collins is very good as Alyssa’s mother, but she’s forced into the role of the villain of the piece. A little subtlety and a lot of sincerity in the storylines would help the show, but at heart it wants to tell a story of acceptance of diversity similar to "Zanna Don’t," which created a consistent tone on an off-Broadway scale and which worked much better as a piece of theatre. Keep working on it, guys. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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