In 2010, a Mississippi girl was barred from bringing her girlfriend to her high school prom. She challenged the decision, and in response, the school board cancelled the prom altogether. The resulting media attention led to a group of celebrities sponsoring a "Second Chance Prom" for the student.
Add some snappy banter, songs and choreography and you have THE PROM, inspired by the true-life story. It's one of Theatre Under the Stars' two offerings this summer (along with Matilda, the Musical). And it's a funny, crowd-pleasing charmer of a show.
Taking equal aim at small-town small-mindedness and celebrity narcissism, THE PROM plays the tale primarily as a farce. Dee Dee Allen (Caitriona Murphy) and Barry Glickman (Greg Armstrong-Morris) are two Broadway stars who are the very picture of the self-involved, egotistic actor – Barry impulsive, clueless and attention-loving, Dee Dee the classic Broadway diva. After their latest show is pilloried by the reviewers, they decide to take up a cause - any cause! - to appear selfless. Online, they discover the story of Emma (Anna Pontin), an Indiana teen whose prom has been cancelled because she wants to bring her girlfriend.
Dee Dee and Barry team up with Trent Oliver (Matthew Valinho), an actor and Juilliard graduate (as he keeps reminding everyone), and lifelong chorus girl Angie Dickinson (no relation to the 70's star of Police Woman – guess I'm dating myself for even noticing that?), played by Amanda Lourenço. The four of them plus their press agent Sheldon (Jessica Wong) head for Indiana intending to use star power to save the day – and make themselves look good in the process.
Of course, given the demands of dramatic structure, they don't succeed - yet. But by show's end, all has been resolved happily.
Much humour is mined from the culture clash between Broadway celebs and small-town culture (or lack of same). The show is full of great zingers, and a few up-to-the-moment topical references are mixed in to boot.
The cast is outstanding all around. Greg Armstrong-Morris brings a flamboyant, endearing charm to Barry. Catriona Murphy is bold and brassy as Dee Dee. Anna Pontin is authentic and vulnerable as Emma (with a wonderful, pure singing voice). And I totally believed newcomer Kevin Khonje as the calm, kind yet authoritative high-school principal, Tom Hawkins.
Standout musical numbers include Dee Dee's "It's Not About Me", a great "message contradicts the title" number in the vein of The Drowsy Chaperone's "I'm Shy"; the "Acceptance Song", a cringeworthy and hilarious plea for understanding delivered at a monster truck rally; and a wonderful Fosse tribute, "Zazz", that Angie delivers at the top of Act 2. There's also a rousing Gospel-tinged number led by Trent, "Love thy Neighbour", in which he leverages the professed Christian convictions of the town's teens to get them thinking about their contradictory attitudes towards some of their own neighbours.
The plot is fairly straightforward, and I would have welcomed some more depth and complexity to the characters, but it still caught me by the heartstrings more than once - particularly as Emma and Barry prepare to attend a "do-over prom" that is really a second chance for both of them.
Director and choreographer Tracey Power keeps things moving fairly briskly and the dancing is top-notch, especially the numbers featuring the whole company. And the band, led by Sean Bayntun with Eliza de Castro, delivers a top-notch sound that is colourfully orchestrated and tightly performed.
All in all, this is one Prom you'll definitely want to attend!
For more info and ticket links, visit The Prom's listing here on the VMTC!