Dee Dee Allen’s big Act 1 solo in The Prom—the song that brings the Broadway diva and her New York entourage to a small-town Indiana high school to “save the day”—was not always Dee Dee Allen’s big Act 1 solo. “Originally, this song was a duet for Barry [Glickman] and Dee Dee called ‘This Poor Girl,’” says Beguelin.
But after workshopping the song, Tony nominees composer Matthew Sklar and lyricist Chad Beguelin realized it needed to be her song alone. “Her character is much more there for fame,” says Beguelin. “Barry is, but he also sort of cares about the issue at hand.”
Still, “This Poor Girl” read too harsh and even Tony nominee Beth Leavel couldn’t make Dee Dee likable after that. “As Bob Martin said, ‘If Beth is working too hard, you have to go back to the drawing board,” recalls Beguelin. And so they did, rendering Dee Dee simply ill-informed. “That’s where the comedy comes from.”
The melody comes from one of Beguelin’s greatest inspirations: Andrew Lloyd Webber. “It’s really a tribute to Evita and the Argentinian sound,” Sklar says. “We just thought it was kind of funny for her to burst into a school gym and start singing this very melodramatic piece of music.”
Inspired by Webber’s odd meters, Sklar composed the song “in seven”—that stomping rhythm you hear underscoring the verses—and then wrote the chorus as a sweet and soft contrast.
“She’s trying to play the part of sweet, so I wanted that music to emphasize that,” says Sklar. “Going from this aggressive place and then saying ‘but I really do care.’”
“The idea of ‘It’s not about me,’” Beguelin interjects, “I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met anyone who says that phrase when it isn’t actually all about them.”
In the case of “It’s Not About Me,” it truly is all about Leavel and how the songwriters were able to cater to her voice and comedic timing. “She was the standby for Christine Ebersole and Mary Testa in the 42nd Street revival; I played in the pit,” says Sklar. “I really got to learn her instrument by listening to her eight shows a week … to now create those moments that really ring.”
And Beguelin did his part to ensure the lyrics would do the same. “I try every single time to do a perfect rhyme,” he says. “It’s not always easy, but for me that’s really important. Rhymes help the audience understand it on the first listen. We get one shot to listen to it sometimes and if there’s a perfect rhyme, you comprehend it better.”