It may have been snowing in New York City, but that didn’t stop Broadway’s newest musical The Prom from celebrating its opening night. Written by Tony winner Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone), directed by Tony winner Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon), and with a score by Tony nominees Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar (The Wedding Singer), the parallel stories of teenage lesbian Emma, whose school cancels the Prom when she wants to take her girlfriend, and the Broadway celebrities looking to rehab their narcissistic image by taking up Emma's cause, roared onto the Longacre Theatre stage November 15.
Playbill greeted the cast and creative team to talk about the new musical comedy with a completely original book that has been six years in the making.
“We crafted it for every actor that we had onstage,” said director Nicholaw of shaping the show, its characters, and showcasing their talents onstage. “It was talent wins.”
Reuniting with familiar designers and having worked with the writing trio (Martin on Drowsy Chaperone and Elf, Beguelin on Elf and Aladdin, and Sklar on Elf), Casey also recruited tried-and-true Broadway veterans: Tony winner Beth Leavel, two-time Tony nominee Christopher Sieber, and Tony nominee Brooks Ashmanskas among them. “It's probably the best experience I've had,” Nicholaw told Playbill.
Sklar and Beguelin came on camera to “talk process” and revealed that the first song they wrote for the show was “You Happened,” now the number in the show featuring the nationwide tradition of Promposals. “Originally it was just the two girls and then our producers brought to our attention...there were promposals going on all over high schools so we were like okay let's integrate that so now we have a couple of straight promposals and then the girls integrate into that,” said Sklar.
Sklar has written a score full of earworms: “I've always loved Alan Menken and Marc Shaiman and Marvin Hamlisch and those are real melodists and I've always wanted to do that in my writing,” said the composer.
Star Beth Leavel joined Playbill on the carpet—mimicking The Prom’s opening scene when her character, Dee Dee Allen, greets the press on the opening night of the fictional Eleanor The Musical. “We said tonight when it opened, this is meta. Fortunately this one's a heck of a lot better than Eleanor the Musical,” said Level.
The Tony winner expressed her gratitude to the writers for trusting her in the lead role. “To have songs like that written for you—thank you Matt and Chad so very much, and I'm a lucky girl. They know my voice and they write it for me, they write it for my comedy, they write it for my storytelling,” said Leavel. As to her comedic timing, she said, “You're born with a certain comedy DNA that you can either practice or let go. My parents were never performers but they had some comedy DNA so I was born with it, and being in the business for [mumble] years and listening to people with expert comedy DNA, I've listened and learned.”
And she was listening and learning from co-stars Sieber and Ashmanskas, who stopped to talk to Playbill.
“The greatest thing about working on this show is that they let us add to their material,” said Sieber. “Getting into a room and paying with your friends, it doesn't feel like creation. It feels like recess.”
Ashmanskas called the rehearsal room “wildly collaborative. It's exactly us backstage.”
Sieber also let viewers in on the evolution of his Act 2 number “Love Thy Neighbor.”
“Love Thy Neighbor came about because they needed a song for Trent in Act 2 and MS said to me one day ‘What's your highest note that you can sing comfortably?’ Advice to people out there when a composer asks...always do like F! Because [now] it's A flat.”
The younger star of the show, Caitlin Kinnunen, told Playbill she learned the most important lesson from the generation of Broadway greats onstage. “Show up and do good work. That's what they do every single day and they are there 100 percent every single day.”