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REVIEW: ‘The Prom’ takes TPAC audience on a bumpy but heartfelt ride to LGBTQ triumph

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

The national tour of Broadway’s “The Prom” hit TPAC on Tuesday, scoring big — though sometimes questionable — laughs and getting people grooving in their seats with its dynamic dance moves and discoey beats.

The musical’s plot erupts from the meeting of two main narratives: one of two gay teens and one of four narcissistic Broadway stars.

At first, the two sets of character arcs don’t seem to gel. Broadway’s ironic eagerness to poke fun at its own culture often oddly taints the spotlight on LGBTQ matters. But ultimately, their interplay results in a heartwarming finale that puts the attention where it matters most.

“The Prom” begins with the downfall of Broadway diva Dee Dee Allen and her co-star Barry Glickman. A vicious New York Times reviewer stabs them for their self-indulgent performances in “Eleanor!: The Eleanor Roosevelt Musical,” shutting the show down after opening night and sending their careers down the toilet.

The two team up with fellow washed-up actors Trent Oliver and Angie Dickinson to improve their respective public images. In search for “a cause” to stand behind, they stumble on a Twitter story surrounding small-town teen Emma Nolan, who’s desire to bring her girlfriend to her high school prom triggered the event’s cancellation.

The four performers travel to Indiana to “save the day” — or really just to save their own reputations.

Act I rolls out throwing heavy parodic punches, mocking theater stereotypes by bringing them to life in a fittingly garish fashion and dropping a boatload of references to famed productions like “Les Miserables” and “The Miracle Worker.”

The effort to be over-the-top is almost over-the-top, which might serve as a comedic feast for theatergoing verterans while making others gag and groan.

In a similar but less lighthearted vein, one lyric sparked split reactions in the audience. The reprise of “Changing Lives” ends with Barry Glickman, played by Patrick Wetzel, spouting off an offensive slur that elicited a mixed bag of laughter and stunned silence.

The line between cool and not gets walked again as the ostentatiousness reaches its peak in “The Acceptance Song,” an attention-grab by the Broadway stars disguised as a demonstration of advocacy for Emma.

The scene is set at a monster truck rally — beware of flashing lights — and features elaborate costumes and a giant Pride flag. Though the intention still seems to be to highlight the narcissistic tendencies of the actors, it borders on feeling like a mockery of queer culture instead. It does work, however, as a low point from which these characters begin to evolve into better people.

But the true hero of the story is Emma, who was played by understudy Megan Grosso on Tuesday night. Grosso stepped up in a believable performance as a shy teenager who just wants to dance the night away with the girl she loves.

Grosso’s performance in “Dance with You” and “You Happened” provided sweet, heartwarming relief amidst the flash and chaos of the Broadway stars’ touchdown in her character’s hometown.

Kalyn West’s performance as Emma’s girlfriend, Alyssa Greene, also made for a convincing teen in turmoil. West sang with incredible vocal control and just the right amount of angst, delivering a tender portrayal of a closeted young woman dealing with a “control freak” of a mother.

The catchy Act I closer “Tonight Belongs to You” finally seems to soundly merge the stories of the teen students and the aging actors. It oozes 80’s-esque prom magic with colored lights and youthful dancing and builds to a jaw-dropping twist before the curtain.

Act II picks up in Emma’s bedroom, where she and Angie Dickinson, portrayed playfully by Emily Borromeo, unite in “Zazz” — an ode to Bob Fosse sure to put a smile on your face.

The audience starts to see the Broadway stars learn to be better people while Emma and Alyssa learn to be brave. The comedic volume turns down a few notches, allowing the message to shine.

Before unleashing the final dance-in-your-seat-worthy number on Tuesday night, the cast truly shone in their performance of “Unruly Heart,” in which Gosso led the ensemble in a touching moment of queer community. Their unified voices gave the perfect “aw” moment to sweeten the story up for its celebratory end.

Cast of “The Prom” in its finale number, “It’s Time to Dance.” Deen van Meer.

“The Prom” is an undeniably extravagant show that spins a story of LGBTQ triumph, and it struggles, at times, to navigate such dicey territory. However, when the dust settles, its heart seems to be in the right place, and it has plenty of enjoyable moments along the way.

“The Prom” runs at TPAC through Sunday.

Belmont students can apply the promo code “Bruins” prior to your ticket selection to access a student discount.

“The Prom” was directed by Casey Nicholaw. Book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin. Music composed by Matthew Sklar with lyrics by Beguelin.

PHOTO: Act I of “The Prom” featuring Courtney Balan as Dee Dee Allen (center-left) and Patrick Wetzel as Barry Glickman (center-right). Deen van Meer.

This review was written by Meagan Irby.

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