'The Prom' review: There's too much bashing at this bash
WHAT "The Prom"
WHERE Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St.
INFO From $59; 212-239-6200, telecharge.com
BOTTOM LINE Ostensibly feel-good musical about a lesbian fighting to go to the prom with her girlfriend is tired — and occasionally mean.
If you got a kick out of identifying the Broadway references in “Something Rotten” or “The Drowsy Chaperone,” or appreciated the message of tolerance in “Mean Girls,” you might have a fine time at “The Prom.”
There’s a little bit of all of those shows in this feel-good musical at the Longacre Theatre about a lesbian fighting to attend the prom with her girlfriend — not surprising considering similarities in creative teams. Bob Martin (“Chaperone”) did the book along with Chad Beguelin, with direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw (“Chaperone,” “Rotten” and “Mean Girls.”)
But there’s a tired, been-there-done-that quality to the whole thing, as four egotistic but out-of-work Broadway relics search for a cause to soften the perception that they are raging narcissists (good luck with that.) Quickly dismissing world poverty, hunger and — huge audience response here — eliminating the Electoral College, they descend uninvited on a high school in a small Indiana town, where the prom has been canceled by a homophobic PTA.
The goal of the group, led by over-the-top diva Dee Dee and flamboyantly gay leading man Barry (showstopping, hard-sell performances from Beth Leavel and Brooks Ashmanskas), is to sway public opinion and introduce a little political correctness to a population that isn’t buying.
Emma, the young lesbian at the heart of the story, played with understated warmth by Caitlin Kinnunen, is overwhelmed by the attention but grits her teeth and goes along. Barry’s fashion makeover doesn’t really help; somewhat more successful is the attempt at attitude adjustment by the long-legged “Chicago” chorine Angie (perfect for the part Angie Schworer), who tries to inject some of that old Bob Fosse “Zazz.” Eventually, Emma deals with the issue in her own way, causing a viral social-media sensation that brings to mind a far better Broadway musical.
And for a show that preaches tolerance, there is precious little on display, with equal-opportunity bashing aimed at everyone from retailers Kmart and Dress Barn to Judy Woodruff of PBS, and — seriously, do they have a death wish? — theater critics.
But the nastiest digs are directed at Midwest values. One hard-to-stomach song (the lyrics are mostly unprintable) takes aim at people who live “where the necks are red and the lack of dentistry thrives,” clearly pointing to the brutal blue state/red state divide facing our nation. “This is not America,” proclaims the beleaguered PTA president, attempting to defend her position. “This is Indiana.” It’s all intended as satire, of course, but somehow it comes off as just plain mean.