There is no justification for homophobia; it’s literally irrational, which, from a playwright’s point of view, means it’s that rare subject that can’t be made less ridiculous by a judicious consideration of the arguments in its favour. No, not even when those arguments are based on religious scriptures. Comic gold, in other words. Making fun of it or having fun with it, however, requires thought. In order not to go too far, a satire must not confuse sin with the sinner; there are still many people of good will who somehow believe that homosexuality is a life choice, or condemned by God. Demonizing them wholesale will predictably backfire. And perhaps more difficult for a satirical approach, although homophobia may be ridiculous, the serious consequences it has had in so many lives are necessarily sobering. A reflection is therefore called for.
The creators of Prom, a musical whose traveling company is briefly based at the Baltimore Hippodrome, no doubt saw this second problem, gave it a lot of thought, and came up with a bold approach to it, mixing satire on homophobia with comedic fantasy. on two distinct proven topics. to love the ridiculous: a) the institution of the high school prom, and b) the lives and personalities of people in showbiz. Real life had already provided a model for this mixture. In 2010, a school district in Mississippi shut down a prom to prevent two high school girls from attending as a couple, and a showbiz executive and musicians, led by the group Green Day, came to save the occasion by hosting a prom. “Second Chance” for local LGBT children is not welcome at other balls. That’s pretty much the plot of Prom.
Proms are an interesting subject. As one of the songs about that particular ball goes, “Though it shouldn’t matter / It kinda does.” Much of what makes them important is often not quite stated, partly because everyone understands it, partly because on the surface, proms are absurd acts of frivolity. Yet they are simultaneously serious business, not only because of the dollar and cent consequences in terms of formal wear, flowers, dinners, drivers, etc., but also because, unlike other dances , at proms, there is usually pressure to attend with a date. They are a celebration of coming of age, a rite of passage – and also (given the dates and the emphasis on caring for the participants for the occasion) implicitly a celebration of the participants’ sexuality, which makes the invitation to participate an implied act requiring sexually non-conforming children to identify themselves. And in many cases, that would necessarily involve coming out, a serious thing, or failing that, lying about yourself, an equally serious thing. And if the community is (as this community in Mississippi apparently was) in denial of many of its children’s sexuality (and its acceptability), the ball can be a time of confrontation and/or consideration for the community as a whole. , which makes for drama if not obviously comedy.
Meanwhile, the idiosyncrasies of people in showbiz are well known and rightly celebrated as one of the most trusted sources of jokes. In the comedies of Hay fever at Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike at the Recent-at-the-Hippodrome Tootsie, the comedians come across as narcissistic, superficial, irrationally optimistic, unfit for everyday people’s lives, dependent on employees and associates with real life skills to deal with the real world, and far more lively than ordinary people for to start up.
It works perfectly in a setting full of ordinary people. Prom plunges a well-assorted crew of these strange beings into the fictional small town of Edgewater, Indiana (presumably adjacent on an imaginary map to goodbye birdie‘s Sweet Apple, Ohio), full of community spirit, hormonal teenagers, and ripe to be reshaped by outsiders. The cast of actors are refugees from a disastrous Broadway musical (about Eleanor Roosevelt, no less!) shut down after one performance to scathing reviews. They include Dee Dee (Courtney Balan), a diva for whom everyone is the universe is little more than an accessory, Barry (Patrick Wetzel), a matinee idol on the hill, Trent (weber bud), who went to Juilliard and seems to have completed his intellectual development there, and Angie (Emilie Borromee) who spent 20 years in the choir of Chicago and quit because she was never promoted to the role of Roxie Hart. They all need a quick, reputable transfusion based on some sort of selfless act, and they seize on Emma’s fate (Kaden Kearney), a young lesbian banned from her prom as the kind of problem she can solve quickly and effortlessly with some important and necessary public relations.
Of course, nothing goes as planned and of course, in the end, it all works out nonetheless, and the show brings incredible fun to the task of showing how it all happens. The fun wouldn’t happen if the underlying issues didn’t get a decent airplay.
This is, after all, first and foremost, a show about homophobia, and much of the dispute is about generations. The older generation, less open to accepting various sexualities, is personified by the head of the PTA, Ms. Greene (Ashanti J’Aria), leader of the effort to hold the line against Emma’s admission and of her scheduled prom date. It is not unusual for those who publicly struggle with the acceptance of living private lives which in some way have homosexual implications, and tellingly, unbeknownst to Ms Greene, the planned date of ‘Emma is Mrs. Greene’s own daughter, Alyssa (Kalyn West), meaning that by resisting inclusivity, she is unconsciously – or perhaps not so unconsciously – resisting her own daughter. Because there is no doubt that the truth will come out, it can go one of two ways: breakup or acceptance – and we know breakup is possible, as we saw in the case of Emma and her parents. What really drives Mrs Greene is insightfully diagnosed by Alyssa in the song Alyssa Green and it is not an honest thought, but a constraint, although a somewhat understandable constraint. Ms. Greene’s older generation foil is the principal, Mr. Hawkins (Sinclair Mitchell), who struggles, in the face of the widespread intolerance of Mrs. Greene and her ilk, to bring a humane resolution to the conflict over the prom. (Mr. Hawkins also functions as a love interest for Dee Dee.)
The younger generation has its own drama of acceptance. There is a reflexive junior division homophobia at work in the high school classroom, manifested primarily through bullying, but accompanied by some secret envy, as some of the bullies may question their own sexuality more that they don’t feel safe to recognize it. And there’s also a head-on confrontation with the one thing that might seem like justification for homophobia, biblical sayings. As we all know, there are passages in the Old Testament that seem to forbid homosexuality. For serious young people who, for example, went to a Bible camp like Alyssa, this may seem like a substantial reason to end the discussion and reject any further attempts to reason. But a song sung by Trent (Love thy neighbor) forcefully kicks the door open against such attempts to close it. In an echo of President Jeb Bartlet getting rid of an obnoxious evangelical leader in The west wing (S2 E3), Trent lists the consequences for these children of taking all OT bans seriously.
Kaylee has a small tattoo
This tattoo would be taboo
Kaylee, guess what’s in store for you
An eternity in the fiery pits of hell!
And to a child whose mother is divorced:
Oh, divorce is a big no-no.
But scripture implies
That your mama will have to die
How is tomorrow if she has nothing planned?
As the excerpts above also illustrate, the lyrics, by Chad Begulin, are exceptionally witty. And Matthew SklerThe music of is never less than useful and sometimes quite moving. It would be hard to watch the second act without misting up your eyes, and for that Sklar can take much of the credit, especially for the moving duet between young lovers Emma and Alyssa, dance with you, introduced in the first act and resumed at the end.
The cumulative effect of all this thoughtful construction Prom it’s that there’s hardly a joke that misses, barely a dance move that doesn’t excite, and barely a song that doesn’t connect. Everything works together and the public will leave completely satisfied. Do not miss.
The ball, book by Bob Martin and Chad Begulin, music by Matthew Skler, lyrics by Chad Begulin, directed by Casey Nicholaw, through January 23 at the Hippodrome Theater, The France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. Tickets $48-190 at Ticketmaster. Adult language, sexuality.
Manufacturing photo by Deen Van Meer.