The wittiest musical to brighten Broadway this season is “The Prom,” highlighted by smart lines in the book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin, and Beguelin’s amusing lyrics set to the on-target score by Matthew Sklar. Add an enjoyable cast, Casey Nicholaw’s slick direction and rousing choreography perfectly attuned to the subject matter and you have the ingredients for a sure-fire, word-of-mouth hit.
The plot gets far-fetched but nonetheless works by way of how it clicks together in the staging. We first meet a gang of Broadway types suffering a disastrous review in the New York Times for their latest show. How to recover? The answer is to boost their fame by doing something good for society. Eureka. They focus on a high school prom in a small town in Indiana where a lesbian student is barred from escorting another lesbian to the dance. Off the Broadway gang goes to Indiana to right the wrong.
The actor contingent includes Brooks Ashmanskas uproariously playing the outlandishly gay Barry Glickman, Christopher Sieber as the hyper-egotistical actor Trent Oliver, and in the performance I saw, the wonderful, strong-voiced Kate Marilley in the droll role of actress Dee Dee Allen, a part usually played by Beth Leavel. There is also Angie Schworer as the sexy, long-legged blonde Angie. Together they are hilarious.
As a long-time member of Drama Desk, I got a special kick out of the situation when in order to impress the clerk in a run-of-the-mill motel in Indiana to assign a best room, a Drama Desk award statue is plopped on the desk to prove Broadway stature--a delightful in-joke, only one of many in the show.
As for the local Indiana crisis, Caitlin Kinnunen is superb as the shy lesbian Emma, and Isabelle McCalla is excellent as her girlfriend Allysa, who is reluctant to come out of the closet because of her overbearing mother, who leads the town fight to uphold bias by banning lesbians from the prom.
There is also the very decent African-American principal, Mr. Hawkins, played appealingly by Michael Potts, and a romantic touch is added when he and Dee Dee are mutually attracted. There’s a lot of fuss when the Broadway gang is greeted as intruders, something the plot has to resolve.
The beauty of the consistently entertaining show is that much is expressed via the music and lyrics, just as it should be in a musical. For example, Angie loosens up Emma in a song called “Zazz,” recalling the kind of number Bob Fosse used to perfect. Dee Dee Allen gets a major number, “The Lady’s Improving.” As for the lesbian students, Emma and Alyssa team nicely in “Dance With You.”
The Broadway group's outrageousness gets off to a rousing start with the opening number, “Changing Lives” and its quick reprise, with Marilley, Ashmanskas, Schworer, and Sieber having a ball expressing the personalities of the characters they portray.
A terrific ensemble masters the spirited, demanding choreography, often to audience applause. Ann Roth and Matthew Pachtman go to town with the colorful costumes they designed, and Scott Pask has designed sets that niftily house the unfolding situations.
“The Prom” strikes a blow for gender equality while satirizing the egos of liberal Broadway actors pitted against the conception of puritanical Indiana. The message is there in this Trump era, but it is delivered with s view toward making the show fun-filled and packed with entertainment blending with the underlying sincerity. At the Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed November 18, 2018.