The Prom is such an innocuous title for such a raucous musical. “Prom” conjures up images of corsages and limos and slow dances—but The Prom is nothing less than a full-on, Casey Nicholaw–helmed, give-em-the-old-razzle-dazzle that is equal parts show biz gumption and big, beating heart.
And Caitlin Kinnunen is at the center of it all as Emma, a small-town girl who just wants to bring her girlfriend to the prom. When she makes the news because the PTA cancels the event rather than allow same-sex couples, a handful of egocentric, preening Broadway stars—reeling from a closed-on-opening-night flop—decide that she will become their cause célèbre, their way back into the limelight (and possibly the good graces of the critics, who have unanimously accused them of being out of touch) and descend upon her small town to save the day.
Things go… awry.
As they did four years ago for Kinnunen when she first auditioned for the show, written by Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin, with a score by Beguelin and Matthew Sklar. “I originally went in for a cheerleader, and I did those sides and the song, and they were like, ‘You were clearly not a cheerleader,’” she recalls, laughing. “And Casey said, ‘Hey, I think you’re more of an Emma. Can you look over this scene and come back in and read that?’ And I did that and then the next day got the call saying that I booked the role.”
Since then, there has been a fully staged production of the show in Atlanta, prior to The Prom taking over Broadway’s Cort Theatre beginning October 23. And along the way, Kinnunen has marveled at what Nicholaw is capable of as a director, particularly in guiding a handful of Broadway stars playing exaggerated versions of Broadway stars: Tony winner Beth Leavel, Brooks Ashmanskas, Christopher Sieber, and Angie Schworer.
“We have so many varying personalities to begin with, all playing exaggerated versions of themselves,” Kinnunen says. “And it’s been so cool to watch them detail all of the characters, and all the performances. He lets you shine, and he lets you figure out what you want to do and then says, ‘OK, let’s keep doing that, but change it just a little bit.’ He gives us the freedom to do what we want, but the structure to make it amazing.”
As for reaction to a show about a lesbian teenager and her new liberal actor friends, Kinnunen was amazed. “The audience [in Atlanta] just loved it. It was either people like, ‘Oh my gosh, we love this idea. We love this message. We’re all for it going into it.’ Or, people who came in not expecting to like it and who were against the idea of it, and by the end of the show, we changed their minds. We got a whole gamut of individuals coming and learning from it, and loving it.”
Consider this your save-the-date for The Prom.
Watch Playbill’s Tony Awards Live Red Carpet Special sponsored by The Prom: