GO: Dress up and Go to ‘The Prom’

Photo by Deen van Meer.

Did you go to your high school prom? If you want to relive some nostalgic memories or if you missed your prom and want a do-over, then get some tickets and head over to the Ahmanson for “The Prom.” Opening night, there were people who must have gotten a good prom-posal, and came dressed to impress in many prom-worthy suits and gowns. Even a few wrist corsages were spotted.

While “The Prom” is pretty frothy and light as far as musicals go, there’s some serious matters to consider, especially if you hold season tickets. This year, the Ahmanson has really taken on the high school formal dance tradition for social commentary. Earlier this year, it was “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” and the Ahmanson’s current production, “The Prom,” says it all in the title.  For a refresher, “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” was about a young man who dove into the local drag scene and he wanted to bring his drag persona to the prom.

After viewing the Ahmanson production, I was curious to find out more about the real Jamie and found the documentary streaming on Amazon Prime Video. It was well-worth watching both that and the film. I’d even have gone to watch the musical again with all that background.

Like “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, “The Prom” is based on a real incident.  In 2010, the Itawamba County School District learned that a senior named Constance McMillen wanted to wear a tux and bring her girlfriend. At first, she was banned from attending by the school board, but when challenged the board decided to cancel the prom. The ACLU brought a lawsuit against the Itawamba School District and the federal court wasn’t kind to the board. The board was found guilty of violating McMillen’s First Amendment rights, however, the court did not reinstate the prom.

The board decided to allow McMillen to attend the prom which was held at a country club, but only seven students attended as the rest of the students went to another prom held at a secret location. Celebrities did catch wind of this through social media and McMillen and her girlfriend got a “Second-Chance” prom.

“The Prom” musical follows the basics of the story, but begins in NYC with four actors at various stages in their lives trying to find something to help raise their images and make them seem less narcissistic. The oldest two of this quartet were the leads in a new musical, “Eleanor,” about Eleanor Roosevelt. Dee Dee Allen (Courtney Balan) is clueless about who and what Eleanor was and her co-star Barry Glickman (Patrick Wetzel) is also a poor choice to play FDR. A scathing New York Times review kills their show. Left alone by their disappointed cast and production crew, they linger at the after party wondering what to do next. A Julliard graduate and former sitcom star who has been their waiter for the opening night party, Trent Oliver (Bud Weber) and a performer has been too long a chorus girl, Angie Dickinson (Emily Borromeo), comfort them. Angie helps them find a cause: Emma (Kaden Kearney) wants to take her girlfriend to the prom.

You might have heard about this musical, “The Prom,” because it was made into a 2020 film under the direction of Ryan Murphy, starring A-listers Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman. James Corden received a lot of criticism for playing a gay Broadway star because he is heterosexual. I found the film fun, yet seeing the film also may make one compare performances. Streep is definitely in her element as Dee Dee Allen and the first act of the film, moves more briskly than this musical production.

There are places that director and choreography Casey Nicholaw could have tightened up, but there performances are still solid and Kearney really grows from mousy to mayhem ready with touching scenes between Kearney’s Emma and Wentzel’s Barry. Barry didn’t get to attend his prom as he would have liked to, but the Second-Chance prom becomes part of his legacy.

I didn’t attend my prom and I don’t think I missed it. I did want to attend in a tuxedo but would have had to make it and find dressy shoes. Those were two daunting tasks. I was denigrated for the tux idea which was inspired by both George Sand and Marlena Dietrich. So while seeing “The Prom,” was my second-chance, I didn’t get a corsage, but I did get an elegant meal before hand and since graduating from high school, I’ve attended a few formal dances where it was really about the dance.

Take your second chance–either as a do-over or a first time–and make it a night out for “The Prom.” It’s giddy, a little fey and a lot of fun although I still think she should get to keep her house in the Hamptons. “The Prom” is at the Ahmanson until 11 September 2022. For tickets or more information, visit CenterTheatreGroup.

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