THE PROM at Fox Theater review

Not even a Covid outbreak among the cast could stop “The Prom” from taking to the Fox stage, although it did delay the Broadway musical’s start a few days to Friday, Jan. 28. It also brought some change of cast, but you would never have guessed that from the fabulous work of these performers in this rollicking, fun production as it rolled out at the Fabulous Fox.

“The Prom” is not a musical adapted from the 2020 movie but rather a 2016 Broadway show on which the movie was based. The Broadway hit show has music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin and book by Bob Martin and Beguelin, and a satiric story about a group of self-absorbed Broadway performers who travel to the Midwest to protest the exclusion of a Lesbian from the prom just because she wants to bring a girl as a date.

The show was partly inspired by a real event in Fulton, Mississippi, where the town canceled prom rather than let a Lesbian girl attend, although the story is re-set in the Midwestern. There is also a St. Louis connection, in that some early funding for the show came from local arts funders, such as the Fox’s Mary Strauss.

Broadway stars Dee Dee Allen (Ashley Bruce) and Barry Glickman (Patrick Wetzel) are stunned when their new musical about Eleanor Roosevelt closes on the same night it opened. Casting about for something to salvage their public images, and their own pride, they hit on the idea of doing some good deed or charitable work. They find just the thing on Twitter: a story about a sweet, straight-A Lesbian girl named Emma (Kaden Kearney) in Edgewater, Indiana who just wants to take her girlfriend Alyssa (Kalyn West) to the prom but faces fierce opposition from the president of the PTA, Mrs. Greene (Ashanti J’Aria), parents and students, and a threat to cancel prom.

With the help of publicist Sheldon Saperstein (Thad Turner Wilson) and two more performers, Angie (Emily Borromeo), who just quit her role in the chorus in “Chicago” miffed when she was passed over for the role of Roxie Hart for Tina Louise, and Trent (Jordan Alexander), who can’t stop telling people he went to Julliard although he is best known for a role in a TV show. Figuring it would make for good PR, these clueless Broadway types take off for the wilds of the Midwest, to protest, scold, and make as big an attention-grabbing fuss as possible.

t is a case of doing the right thing for the wrong reason, Emma is under pressure from the homophobic PTA and bullying fellow students, something she expresses in her solo song “Just Breathe.” But the arrival of a bunch of outsiders doesn’t help much, especially since it seems to be all about them rather than persuading the town to see things from Emma’s side. Everyone on both sides, except Emma, the lesbian teen at the center of this, comes across pretty bad at first. But eventually preconceived ideas on both sides start to break down, as they start to get to know each other and themselves a little better. Unexpected help comes from the high school principal, Mr. Hawkins (Christopher McCrewell), who is not only sympathetic to Emma’s plight but also a big fan of star Dee Dee Allen.

The show mixes cringe-worthy stereotyping on both sides with sly satire but it is all done in a campy, corny, crazy way that is laugh-out-loud funny, while still making some serious points. The basic message of “The Prom” is tolerance but it comes at it in a off-beat, campy, satiric way, one the pokes fun at preconceived notions all around. It sounds odd but it is surprisingly effective, and enjoyable entertainment.

This is a high energy show, with lively dance numbers and some truly funny songs, with sometimes surprisingly salty comic lyrics. In one hilarious scene early on, the actors decide to “put on a show,” a la Andy Rooney and Judy Garland, to get their message across to the skeptical town. But the only venue they can get is the Monster Truck rally, where their tolerance song-and-dance show,

complete with tee-shirts reading “we are all Lesbians” and where rainbows literally come out their rear ends, goes over like the proverbial lead balloon with the town – but definitely drew guffaws from the audience.

The performers are wonderful, with Kaden Kearney a complete charmer as Emma. Other standouts are Ashley Bruce, stepping into the role of Dee Dee Allen for Courtney Balan, who really knows how to belt out a tune as well as exceeding in the drama and comedy of her part. Patrick Wetzel as over-the-top gay Barry Glickman steals most of the comic honors, but followed closely by Jordan Alexander, filling in for Bud Weber as Trent Oliver, the Shakespeare-quoting guy who went to Julliard but who all the kids recognize from TV. And a nod has to go to Jordan De Leon, who not only plays one of the bullying students but two other small roles and appears in the ensemble, for being a real trouper taking up the slack for cast members out sick.

Comedy, romance, and a message of tolerance all combine in this highly entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable show. “The Prom” is on stage at the Fabulous Fox through Feb. 6.

© Cate Marquis

The National Touring Company of THE PROM. Photo by Deen Van Meer. Courtesy of Fox Theater