In many ways, The Prom (now playing at the Longacre Theatre) is two very different musicals in one. With a book by Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin and a score by Beguelin and Matthew Sklar, the premise is deceptively simple: Borderline washed-up Broadway stars, desperate for positive press, descend upon a small town that made national news for banning same sex couples from the high school prom to convince the townspeople the error of their ways.
But that premise also calls for two very different musical theatre approaches. Tony Award winner Dee Dee (Tony Award winner Beth Leavel) and her friends would never sing the way the high schoolers do, and vice versa. So Beguelin and Sklar wrote a score that alternates between brassy show biz and modern musical comedy, each sound exemplified by Dee Dee’s 11 o’clock number “The Lady’s Improving” and teenage Emma’s “Dance With You,” all of it brought to exuberant life by director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw.
Mentioned multiple times over the course of the show, “The Lady’s Improving” lives up to the hype. “We knew it had to accomplish two things,” Sklar says. “It needed to have dual meaning lyrically and we also had to believe it was a show-stopping song from the musical Dee Dee did when she was 20.”
“We look at it as the composer of the song was probably a real big fan of Company,” adds Sklar with a laugh. “And that composer really loved Jonathan Tunick orchestrations. So it was a tricky assignment.”
The show biz interlopers all have their own theatrical languages—diva, Kander and Ebb dancer, playful second banana—but the lesbian couple at the center of the plot are pure emotion. And “Dance With You,” sung by Caitlin Kinnunen, was one of the simplest songs to complete.
“I was on a trip to Paris and thinking about the song, and how these girls just want to dance,” Beguelin says. “That’s all they want to do, and it explodes into this whole controversy. I knew I wanted it to be simple and honest lyrically, so in my jetlagged haze I wrote down a version.”
Sklar immediately teared up when he read the lyrics—not a word of which has changed. “I knew I had to write music that supported the emotional weight of the words,” Sklar says. “I didn’t want the accompaniment to be simple. There’s a lot of counterpoint and harmonies with tension in them so the song feels like it doesn’t settle down, because that reflects what the girls are going through.”
The resulting score, an appealing blend of the old and the new accomplishes the one require-ment of any prom: pure enchantment.
The Prom plays at Broadway’s Longacre Theatre (220 W 48th Street between Broadway & Eighth Avenues) in an open-ended run, with previews from October 25, an opening night set for November 15.