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Review: THE PROM at Dr. Phillips Center Is Campy, Vampy Fun

A bit broad but VERY Broadway, this hilarious satire brings big-musical energy and food for thought on both sides of America's political divide...

The Prom

Dr. Phillips Center brings Broadway to town pretty much monthly, but Orlando has maybe never been as New York as now. That's because The Prom is here... a Broadway musical for people who love Broadway musicals but one that's equally capable of converting the unacquainted.

Those who saw Ryan Murphy's Netflix adaptation last year know that The Prom concerns four narcissistic Broadway stars in need of good PR who go cause-hunting and end up in conservative Indiana, where a high school lesbian has just been shut out of her own prom. They're ready for war with weapons of song, dance, and Chicago-style "zazz" but soon learn that showtunes alone are no antidote for intolerance.

THE PROM might be the perfect show to take on tour because it's all about Broadway invading the heartland. There's even a tour within a tour (Godspell, strategically - religion is front and center here), and plenty even for the Ronald Reagan-iest patron to find amusing. Though unabashedly progressive, the show also has plenty to say about liberal elitism, celebrity ego, and the ways in which both sides of our political divide talk past one another. Even if it doesn't aspire toward nuance or contemplation beyond the high school level, The Prom still passes as an insightful satire of culture war in America.

Visiting this story in its original stage form will be refreshing for those who know only the Netflix version. It's as if someone grabbed a theatrical scouring pad and scrubbed away all the glitzy, feel-good "Glee"-dom that made Murphy's take feel slightly sugar-rushed. On stage, The Prom is refreshingly edgier, campier, and just a smidge more foul-mouthed than in the movie, albeit still unrealistic and all too tidy in the end.

Courtney Balan is deliciously diva-ish as Dee Dee Allen, a role she understudied in the original Broadway cast. Emily Borromeo lends likeability to freewheeling Fosse-ite Angie, and her physical comedy gets big laughs in Act Two's "Zazz," a song that comes to much larger life on stage than on screen even without all the cinematic flare. And Patrick Wetzel somehow comes across as incredibly grounded in the sometimes-stereotypical role as very gay Barry Glickman. Meanwhile, Bud Weber brings his strong singing voice to Julliard blowhard Trent Oliver but none of the bloviating flavor or distinctive line readings that made Broadway's Christopher Sieber and Netflix's Andrew Rannells so memorable.

Leading the cast of high school characters is Kaden Kearney, eminently believable as Emma, with big belts, spot-on comedic timing, and dancing that must be both authentically bad and then spontaneously good in the course of a single song. Like Kearney, Kalyn West (as Alyssa here, after playing a smaller part in the original Broadway cast) seems to consciously hold back on vocals until her character's moment of breakthrough, when West's voice comes out to shine. For both, the effect works well.

Rounding out the cast, Sinclair Mitchell sings a smooth "We Look to You" as Mr. Hawkins, and Lexie Plath (standing in for Ashanti J'aria on opening night) makes a fine impression as Mrs. Greene.

Sound mixing suffered many a misstep on opening night, with mics turning on too late all evening while individual volume levels fluctuated (sometimes nearly to extremes) during both speech and song. Perhaps those issues were to blame for some of the night's fumbled lines, but then what prom would be complete without an underwhelming sound setup? Hopefully, many of those issues will be addressed before The Prom's final night in Orlando on December 12th.

THE PROM is a funny and timely musical that, though treading too closely to an after-school special for its own good, finds camp giving a corsage to showtunes. Not all the songs soar. Too many have an unwelcome pop polish, the spot-on message in "Love Thy Neighbor" is compromised ever so slightly by a few scriptural speed bumps, and for every dazzling rhyme there's a dud. But most are catchy, and the best of them leave you something to think on or laugh along with. The show is unquestionably a highlight of this touring season, and if you're over 18, it'll probably go down as the best and last prom of your life. Get tickets at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

Note: In response to a state mandate, Dr. Phillips Center recently reversed its strictly enforced vaccine mandate for patrons, though all guests are still required to wear face coverings. Performers do not wear masks.


What do you think of THE PROM on tour? Let me know on Twitter @AaronWallace.

Photography Credit: Photos copyright Deen Van Meer, 2021, courtesy of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.



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