Saturday, February 18, 2023

"The Prom" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

This late winter/early spring, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres is bringing us the regional premiere of a new original modern-day Broadway musical, a bit of a step outside their comfort zone of classics and retro pieces (like the recent '80s-set Footloose, which ran for a full year). But what a great and exciting choice The Prom is - a musical that’s all about love, inclusion, acceptance, friendship, community, and seeing the goodness and worth of all humans regardless of who they are or whom they love. It's a beautiful and necessary message, with recent threats to LGBTQ+ and transgender rights. The Prom shows is that we all belong, we all deserve to go to the prom exactly as we are, we all deserve to love whom we chose to love, be who we truly are, and be happy. That's not so radical, is it? Despite the modern message, The Prom is in many ways an old-fashioned classic musical, with big dance numbers, broad comedy, Broadway references, and a fantastic and mostly upbeat score that'll send you out into the cold singing, with a heart warmed from this beautiful story. But unlike many of their open-ended shows, this one has an end date - June 10. So don't wait too long to get your tickets and head out to the Western suburbs for this super fun and heart-warming show. Click here for info and tickets, and keep reading for information on discount tickets at the end of this post.

Two very different groups of people come together in The Prom - Broadway actors down on their luck who are looking for a cause to improve their image, and residents of the small town of Edgewater, Indiana. These groups collide when the Broadway stars hear about a teenage girl named Emma who wants to go to the prom with her girlfriend, which terrifies the conservative PTA, who shut the prom down. The actors burst into town, all jazz hands and big belts and dance moves, not really thinking too far beyond their own selfish motives. But they soon connect with Emma and begin to learn about what generosity really means. Despite their good intentions, their plan to help Emma fails, and she comes up with a plan of her own to not only get what she wants and deserves, but create a prom that's a true celebration of individuality, where everyone is welcome. If only it were that easy; if only intolerance and bigotry could be solved with a song and a dance. But maybe it's a place to start.*

a prom for everyone! (photo by Dan Norman)
Michael Brindisi directs the show with great vigor and verve, and as always moves the huge and uber talented cast around the stage in a smooth and graceful way that never feels overcrowded, but rather creates a full and rich world. Tamara Kangas Erickson's choreography is fun and energetic, modern yet familiar, and super fun to watch. Rich Hamson's costume design is a delightful array from the heightened reality of the Midwestern teens to the silly and over the top wardrobe of the "celebrities." The sheer volume of costumes (and wigs, designed by Amanda Levens) is astounding, there must be hundreds. Every character has a new outfit for every day (that really shows off their personality), not to mention the large ensemble, each of whom plays a handful of different characters. Nayna Ramey's set design is bold and colorful - school lockers, hotel beds, etc. set against a backdrop of a night sky with a moon and stars, and a large cherry tree in full bloom off to one side. Just behind the sky scrim is Music Director Andy Kust's ten-piece band, playing this fun and catchy score with great spirit.

it doesn't get much more fab than these four (Helen Anker,
Jodi Carmeli, Tod Petersen, and Shad Hanley, photo by Dan Norman
This incredible cast is a true ensemble with many stars. The "fab four" of Broadway "celebrities" are
perfectly cast, from Jodi Carmeli (a fixture on the Chanhassen stage who's been absent for way too long) as the self-absorbed but well-meaning Dee Dee, a high-kicking Helen Anker as always-a-chorus-girl-never-a-lead Angie, Shad Hanley as the wonderfully pompous Julliard graduate, and the always delightful Tod Petersen, who not only cracks me up with every line reading, but also infuses Barry with much heart. Leading the beautifully diverse and talented group of young actors is Maya Richardson (fresh off a year-long run as Ariel in Footloose) as the good girl Alyssa, and relative newcomer Monty Hays making their debut at the Chan as Emma. A recent graduate of St. Paul Conservatory for the Performing Arts (read: a real teenager), Monty is a true find. Not only do they possess a strong and gorgeous voice, but they perform with with such real and open-hearted emotion, that it's impossible not to feel for Emma. Monty and Maya have a sweet and believable chemistry as the couple at the center of the controversy, and the Barry/Emma relationship is also really lovely, as they mentor and learn from each (Tod has known Monty since they were little, and the genuine affection between them shows). I don't even have time to mention Jay Albright's trademark bone dry humor as publicist Sheldon, JoeNathan Thomas' wonderful performance as the school principal providing a quiet dignified center for the madness, deliciously mean girls Laura Rudolph and Daysha Ramsey, or the many familiar faces doing double, triple, quadruple duty in the ensemble. As is often the case at the Chan, this is an all-hands-on-deck show, and all hands pull their weight equally.

Emma (Monty Hays) and Alyssa (Maya Richardson)
(photo by Dan Norman)
The Prom shines a bright light on the very real issue of intolerance, particularly for the LGBTQ+ community, but does so in a non-threatening and non-judgmental way, with plenty of humor. It hopefully lets all of see the ways in which we've been closed minded or ungenerous, and shows us ways to be better. While there are some small-town America jokes, there are also plenty of jabs at "celebrities," with the New York actors who think they know it all also learning a thing or two about what it means to be a good human. We all have our varying beliefs, but as the song says, "love they neighbor trumps them all!"

My fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers and I are thrilled to be partnering with the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres to offer a $20 discount to our readers. Many of us were in attendance on opening night, and are planning to return to The Prom for the matinee performance on March 4, after which there will be a talkback with several members of the cast. Use the code TCTB1 (or simply click this link) to purchase tickets at $20 off the regular price. This code is good for any performance through March 12, but we'd love to see you on March 4 (find more info in the Facebook event here). Consider this your promposal - all are welcome!

TCTB: our prom photo

*Plot summary borrowed from my review of last year's Broadway tour.