Get the Tux Or Gown Out Of The Closet Because It’s Time For The Prom!
A look at how this new Broadway smash hit is making us all feel seen.
Emma (Caitlin Kinnunen) is a seventeen-year old lesbian from a small town in Indiana who just wants to bring her girlfriend, Alyssa (Isabelle McCalla), to the high school’s prom. When the PTA cancels the dance because of their ass-backwards beliefs towards homosexuality, a group of five Broadway elitists get wind of the situation from a Twitter post and feel the need to spring into action. Knowing that their fame is depleting they head to the Midwest to help Emma, and to gain positive activist points in the eyes of their critics. But once in Indiana it’s Emma who teaches them how to be a good person and to be who you truly are.
There is a lot to say about The Prom. When I went into it for the first time, I really didn’t have too much of an idea of what it was all about. I had seen the now infamous first LGBTQ kiss during the televised Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade at the end of last year so I had a general inkling. Nothing could have prepared me for the amount of emotions I’d feel when I saw the show, live, in front of my face, during a Wednesday matinee in January.
I could sit here and talk about the amazing talent that is this brilliant cast or even the songs that left the audience tapping their toes to the vivacious beats. But I’m sure you already assume that it’s an incredible show.
So often in the theatre realm we are unable to fully identify with certain characters on stage. This isn’t to say a show is bad. On the contrary, there is a plethora of shows, currently on Broadway (and off) that we love and enjoy. I mean, Book of Mormon? That was fun and it has the accolades to prove it! But am I seen in the show? Not so much. I can honestly say that I have never felt more at home than I did while seeing The Prom.
There’s a certain musical number in the show called “Unruly Heart” that resonates deep with me. I will admit that when I sat in the audience back in January, it made me cry. Seeing it again last night, my wife and sister beside me, I was brought to tears again. It is an incredibly sincere and vulnerable moment for Emma and the entire world. Here we see a distraught Emma singing a song she wrote that she live-streams from her bedroom onto the Internet. LGBTQ kids from all over the world start commenting and chiming in in response to her heroic story. They feel seen. They feel validated. They feel less alone.
I grew up in a seaside town in Connecticut (nothing like what you’re imagining) and was fortunate to have a loving family who accepted me when I came out at sixteen. But there was always the fear of what others, especially in high school, may think of you or how they will look at you. I went to one prom, with a guy, my junior year thinking that that was the only way to attend. The following year I skipped the senior prom and went to the queer prom the state capital was holding for LGBTQ youth. I somehow had it ingrained in me that taking a girl I liked, not wearing a dress, and dancing with her was wrong. So sitting through this song during the performance brought me instantly back to that moment in 2004.
The Prom lets the unrepresented have their moment to shine. It offers a safe space where we can reflect and relate to for once. I had a woman sitting next to me at the show in January. When the curtain came down for intermission I saw that she had tears running down her cheeks. She turned to her partner and said, “That was me”. UGH! The feels!
I know I said I wasn’t going to mention the talented cast but I feel the need to shine light on the spot-on chemistry between Emma and Alyssa (Kinnunen and McCalla). They have the perfect balance of quirky and awkward teenagers in love mixed with almost unbearable-to-watch heartache and torment. Alyssa also happens to be the daughter of the PTA president who canceled the prom on account of Emma being a lesbian. She must hide her love for Emma from her mother throughout the show and the pain that comes across her face (I know because I was front row in the mezz and saw with my own eyes) hits you like a 1-2 punch to the gut.
There were a few moments when I wanted to just hop over that railing and give Emma a hug for all the bullshit her fellow classmates, and their parents, put her through. But that’s just it. It’s real life. Unfortunately for a lot of the LGBTQ population, there is still resistance over accepting a loved one, friend or colleague as their true self. The Prom represents and celebrates diversity. The show has the power to change and inform. It promotes love - from anyone, for anyone — and squashes hate.
Oh, but not to worry, it isn’t all heartache. In fact, this show has an obscene amount of laugh out loud moments. I really can’t remember when I laughed so hard, cried so much, and cheered so loud than I did last night. And … ummmm … guess what. I’m going again in April! It’s one hell of an emotional rollercoaster that I’ll gladly ride again and again.
The Prom now on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre.
For more information and tickets please go to:
See a video for the song “You Happened” and to get a sneak peek at the show here.