Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The Prom is based on the real-life 2010 event in which Constance McMillen's prom was cancelled when her principal said she couldn't bring her girlfriend as her date. The musical is set in a small town in Indiana and focuses on Emma, who suffers a similar fate when her high school's PTA cancels the prom once it becomes known that Emma is planning on bringing a female date. A group of Broadway performers, including Barry Glickman and Dee Dee Allen, who were just called narcissists in reviews for their latest flop show, find themselves on a mission to find a social cause they can latch on to as a way to redeem their careers and get them good press. With their equally desperate friends Trent, Angie, and Sheldon in tow, they descend upon Emma's town in an attempt to help her cause by serving as "celebrity activists" with a mission to force the school to host an inclusive prom.
There are a large number of main and supporting characters in the show and the book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin does a wonderful job in fleshing them out. While there are some important messages in the show, the dialogue and situations are never heavy handed and there are many laugh out loud moments. The book also manages to balance the serious social issue that Emma is facing with the over-the-top, and somewhat self-centered, actors who, at first, are only helping Emma in order to help themselves. There are also some fun twists and turns that make it not as predictable as you think it would be. The score (music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Beguelin) is a wonderful mix of soaring ballads, comical numbers, and upbeat musical theatre showstoppers.
The Spotlight cast, under Kenny Grossman's warm yet comical direction, deliver wonderful performances. Emma is the show's driving central force and Mia Hurley is simply wonderful in the part. Her singing voice shines and soars with an emotional resonance on all of Emma's songs. With realistic line delivery and a strong connection to the other cast members, Hurley also makes us care deeply for Emma. As Dee Dee and Barry, Chris Brown and Donovan Reza make a fun comical pair of lifelong friends. Dee Dee is strangely unaware of the happenings outside of her self-centered world, and Brown's comic line delivery shines in depicting a woman who suddenly realizes there are people more important than herself. Reza is equally good as the older gay man who finds himself connected to Emma as not just a role model and mentor but as a friend who discovers his past is similar to hers. Reza's joyful, unapologetic, and natural performance is one that will stick with you.
As Dee Dee and Barry's friends Angie and Trent, Katerina Anderson and Kylan Chait provide some fun pops of humor and pizzazz. They both have great stage presence, sharp comic timing, and warm singing voices. Zachary Snyders is charming as the school's principal, Mr. Hawkins, who stands up for Emma and finds himself falling for Dee Dee. Anna Parker is wonderful as Alyssa, Emma's closeted girlfriend who has to deal with the homophobic head of the PTA, who happens to be her mother (the equally good Alexandrea Dwyer). The ensemble shine in multiple roles.
Rob Adams' set design works well, with a few added projections by Robert Waller, to depict the various locations in the show. The costumes from Samantha Utpadel are great, character-specific outfits. Josh Hontz' lighting is warm and bright, and the sound design by Neveah Monk is crisp and clear. Hontz' music direction delivers rich harmonies and bright notes from the cast as well as from the small band. The choreography from Katie Czajkowski is a non-stop parade of well-danced group numbers and some very fun solo moments, including the crowd-pleasing "Zazz" which is danced wonderfully by Anderson.
There have been many films and TV shows that have pushed forth the important message that you should be able to be who you are and love whomever you wish, and The Prom delivers that message in spades. It's a charming, witty, and very moving feel-good musical about tolerance and acceptance. It's also hilarious, and Spotlight Youth Theatre's production is simply wonderful.
The Prom runs through September 24, 2023, at Spotlight Youth Theatre, 10620 N 43rd Avenue, Glendale AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.spotlightyouththeatre.org or call 602-843-8318.
Director: Kenny Grossman