Schenectady

Review: Music, dancing make ‘The Prom’ at Proctors a first-rate production

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The program for the light-hearted musical “The Prom,” running through Sunday at Proctors, credits Jack Viertel for the 2016 show’s original concept.

It’s based on a true 2010 incident in Mississippi, when a lesbian high schooler wanted to take her girlfriend to the prom and was rebuffed by the powers that be. National attention to the episode was brought by a few popular entertainers, who raised money for a second-chance prom.

Viertel’s tweak of this storyline, now set in Indiana, involves the arrival of four scheming Broadway performers in sagging careers to lend support to Emma (Megan Grosso at Wednesday’s show). Imagining they will breeze through Edgewater, quickly and publicly transform the Hoosier hicks into sophisticated supporters of all things rainbow, take their collective bow, and return to the open arms of casting directors, this queer-supporting quartet arrives as flashily as a float in a Pride Parade. (I couldn’t help thinking about the cockamamie conceit at the heart of “The Producers.”)

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Not so fast. There are, after all, two acts in this show, and at the end of the first, grande dame Dee Dee Allen (Courtney Balan) is embroiled in a complex relationship with the Black high school principal, Mr. Hawkins (Sinclair Mitchell), who is sensitive to the civil rights issue at stake; Barry Glickman (Patrick Wetzel), gay AND Jewish, is reliving the trauma of his own missed prom way before Gay Lib; Angie Dickinson (Emily Borromeo) is adrift, an unemployed, unsung chorus girl in “Chicago” who knows what it’s like to be overlooked; Trent Oliver (Bud Weber) is, despite his Juilliard pedigree, a bit of Broadway flotsam and jetsam, directionless; and Emma is sick and tired of these pushy performers.

Oh, and Emma’s girlfriend, Alyssa (Kalyn West), is the daughter of the PTA president, Mrs. Green (Ashanti J’Aria), who is leading the charge against Emma.

If I say that Act II is about conversion therapy the other way around, would you be surprised? (I couldn’t help thinking of “Hairspray.”)

With a book by Bob Martin & Chad Beguelin, lyrics by Beguelin, and music by Matthew Sklar, “The Prom” zips along in the hands of an expert company, all under the stage direction of choreographer Casey Nicholaw and musical direction of Chris Gurr, helming a first-rate orchestra.

Were I to be reincarnated, I’d like to sing and dance in an ensemble as accomplished as this one. “Love Thy Neighbor,” led by the wondrous Weber, is biblical deconstruction at its joyous best. (I couldn’t help thinking of Stubby Kaye in “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”) “You Happened,” featuring Grosso and West and the ensemble, is touching and teenaged. (I couldn’t help thinking of “Dance at the Gym,” from “West Side Story.”)

Borromeo’s elastic Angie gives Emma a helpful lesson in living a la Fosse. (I couldn’t help thinking of — well, you know!)

Mitchell delivers the quiet goods in “We Look to You,” a kind of meta tribute to the power of theater to be there when life’s going gets tough.

The show’s anchors, Grosso, Balan, and Wetzel, are splendid throughout. Grosso’s “Just Breathe” and “Unruly Heart” reveal what the real stakes are for a teen coming out. Balan has great fun playing a scenery-chewer who comes to her senses (sort of) in “The Lady’s Improving.” And Wetzel’s Barry is the believable bridge between the bad old gay days and marriage equality, full of joie de vivre, melancholy, and compassion.

My husband said the show feels a little period — a good thing! Though every LGBTQ+ person has a journey to navigate, and all corners of the world aren’t as welcoming as Indiana, the audience’s knowing laughter suggests that, as the show’s rousing final number suggests, times have changed and “It’s Time to Dance.”

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(Incidentally, Viertel wrote a book called “The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built.” Sounds interesting.)

Proctors’ MainStage theater was about two-thirds full for Wednesday night’s performance. COVID protocols: Proof of vaccination is not required, but masks are.

The Prom

WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St.
WHEN: through Mar. 6
HOW MUCH: $85.50-$20
MORE INFO: 518.346.6204, or proctors.org

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts, Schenectady

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