Up Close With The Leading Ladies Of The Prom On Broadway
Caitlin Kinnunen and Isabelle McCalla star in this new musical hit and they want to talk about it!
High school can, and usually is, a tumultuous time for any teenager. Whether you go to a private school, public school, or you’re homeschooled, the age in which our high school years fall is a time for self-discovery and trying to find our place in this world.
The Prom is a new musical that celebrates diversity, the power of love and accepting your authentic self. Emma (Kinnunen) is a 17-year-old lesbian who just wants a simple thing: to take her girlfriend Alyssa (McCalla) to her high school prom. To her dismay, the PTA of her Indiana town cancels the prom all because of their conservative ideologies. When four failing Broadway actors, and their PR rep, get a hold of the story, they jump at the chance to redeem themselves, and their image, by heading out to the Midwest in an attempt to advocate for Emma. Needless to say, hilarity ensues.
Soon after its opening, The Prom got the invitation to perform on national television for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in front of millions of viewers. This was the day when the first ever LGBTQ kiss during a performance in the parade was televised and the day the country lost its shit (mostly in a good way but some weren’t so thrilled). But it was the perfect time to show us that living your authentic life is all kinds of OKAY! From that moment on the show has been permanently placed on my queer, lady-loving, heart. I caught up with Kinnunen and McCalla for their take on bringing young lesbian visibility to the Great White Way.
How would you describe this show to someone who hasn’t had the chance to hear about it yet?
Caitlin: It’s classic musical theatre comedy with a heart of gold! It’s funny, touching, joyful, and most of all, fun. You leave laughing and crying and feeling hopeful about the future.
Isabelle: The Prom is this big-hearted musical about what happens when liberal New Yorkers meet small-town conservatives, and clash over different ideologies. These four Broadway stars whose careers are tanking, decide to get some good press by becoming celebrity activists. They find out about this girl, Emma, who is a lesbian and wanted to take her girlfriend to the Prom, and rather than let this happen, the PTA decided to cancel it. So the Broadway stars decide to march down to this small town in Indiana and right this wrong and change some minds. Naturally, chaos ensues.
The Prom carries a very important theme of acceptance and love is love. In the current state of affairs, do you think the show, and the relationship between your characters, has the power to touch the lives of people struggling with identity?
Caitlin: I do. I think people are finally seeing themselves represented onstage is a positive light. People come and see the show and tell us they finally feel seen and heard. And that’s such an amazing thing to be a part of.
Isabelle: Absolutely! Unfortunately, we’re living in a time in our country where the social/political environment is incredibly polarized, and people are feeling emboldened by this hateful and sometimes violent rhetoric coming from people in very high positions of power, and that just incites oppression. As a result, gay rights are being questioned in many parts of the country. I think our show is powerful because it is extremely relevant in that stories like this are happening all the time. While there is humorous chaos in our show, the relationship between Emma and Alyssa is the grounding center and heart of the story. We try to show their humanity more than anything, and that whoever you love doesn’t define you, it’s just a beautiful part of you. I think we also are able to show that life is much more freeing when you embrace who you are, rather than hide parts of you that you may think others might not like. Emma is so free and self-assured and it takes a little more time for Alyssa to find the courage to fight for herself and her love, but she gets there. Because we portray these two lesbians with different perspectives, it’s easy for young lesbians to relate to either one of them or both. Both stories are valid and true to so many young girls figuring out their identity.
What kind of impact has the show had in your lives? What kind of impact do the fans and their own personal stories have on you as you portray your characters? What does The Prom mean to you?
Caitlin: The show has taught me so much about my own strength. I have the power to use my voice for good and I don’t need to be afraid of that. I’m so much more confident because of Emma. I’m very grateful to her for that. We get so many young people coming to this show and sharing their stories with us about their own journeys. It’s overwhelming. It’s so amazing to be able to connect with them over this show and be able to truly listen to them. They are so open and honest. That’s what I think this show is, it’s communication and acceptance
Isabelle: This show has really enriched my life, both personally and professionally. I feel so privileged that I get to originate this role of this very relatable teenage girl who isn’t quite sure how to come to terms with who she is. Alyssa has taught me that trying to live your life for others won’t make anyone happy, especially not yourself. And that gets reinforced every night at the stage door, or when I receive letters, or messages from young girls around the world, who are seeing themselves represented on stage for the first time. Some have just come out to their families, some are trying to find the courage to do it, and some are still questioning who they are. But hearing their stories, whether they are heartwarming or heart-breaking remind me why it is so important to tell this story. Our show stands in solidarity with them and shows these young girls that they’re not alone, and that figuring out who you are is messy when you’re afraid of losing the people you love.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. First same-sex kiss! A milestone. What was running through your heads? Do you still look back at that moment? How important do you think that moment was for the world to see?
Caitlin: It was SO important. It let people all over America see that love IS love. In the show, we’re just two girls who love each other and we get to show that through a simple kiss at the end of the show. It was absolutely amazing to get to share that.
Isabelle: IT WAS AMAZING! I had so much adrenaline rushing through my body at that moment, because not only was it freezing, but we knew we were about to make history. And I just remember looking into Caitlin’s eyes and feeling like my heart was going to burst because I knew what this moment was going to mean for so many families. It’s just another part of our show, but that moment was bigger than both of us. Seeing the internet explode afterwards was insane. I didn’t expect it to be as talked about as it was. There was definitely some negative backlash, but for every negative comment, there were ten more that were over the moon with what we did. I think it was hugely important because since it was performed on a “family program” like the parade, it validated gay families across the country. We said love looks like this too, and it’s wonderful. I LOVED hearing stories of families talking about it over Thanksgiving dinner, and many people wrote to me and told me that the kiss inspired them to come out to their families that day. If we are able to continue to inspire people to have the courage to be themselves and to reach across political lines and start a dialogue, then we have done our jobs.
Do you have any words of wisdom or encouragement for anyone living in, or close to, Emma and Alyssa’s shoes?
Caitlin: Keep going. Never give up. Find people who will support you and be there for you. We ARE out there even if it feels like you’re alone.
Isabelle: Don’t compromise your own desires to make other people happy. It will only lead to heartbreak for you and the ones you love. When you find the freedom to be yourself, find people that support who you truly are and want you to thrive.
WATCH THE PERFORMANCE FOR THE THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE HERE: