Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Also see Patrick's recent review of Let's Dance
Now imagine you are a gay teenager living in a middle America town where rainbow flags are almost as rare as truck nuts on the popemobile. Such is the case in The Prom for Emma (Kaden Kearney), a young, newly out lesbian who wants to take her girlfriend, the still deeply closeted Alyssa (Kalyn West), to the James Madison High School prom–but the PTA, led by a rather one-dimensional single mother, Mrs. Greene (Ashanti J'Aria), forbids it.
But before we get to meet the students of Madison High (your usual collection of jocks and cheerleaders, with a nerd or two thrown in) in the touring production of The Prom, currently appearing at SHN's Golden Gate Theatre, we will first spend a little time at Sardi's after opening night of a new musical about Eleanor Roosevelt. The two leads of that show, Dee Dee Allen (Courtney Balan) and Barry Glickman (Patrick Wetzel), are self-impressed pathological narcissists who are thrilled when the first review comes in. It's a good one, and they crow that "this tour-de-force will never be forced to tour." But their smiles quickly fade when no other reviewer likes it, and the New York Times pans the show with a level of cruelty that suggests the show's poster will be added to the array of other Broadway failures hanging on the walls of Joe Allen, a restaurant that is a favorite of Broadway performers. "Now we know what the original cast of Carrie felt like," Dee Dee says, at which her castmate Trent (Bud Weber) snaps, "No, you don't."
What to do, what to do? How will Dee Dee and Barry, and fellow cast members Angie (Emily Borromeo) and Trent, garner the attention they so desire with the stain of Eleanor! threatening to send them all to Broadway's D-list? They need a cause: something that will lift their image, without putting them out too much. "A little injustice we can drive to," Dee Dee suggests. World hunger is too broad and building houses for the homeless too much physical labor. Flipping through Twitter, Angie learns of Emma's problem and next thing you know, the cast of Eleanor! interrupt the PTA meeting carrying signs reading "Lez is More!," "Wish You Were Queer," and "No More Mr. Nice Gay."
From composer Matthew Sklar, lyricist Chad Beguelin, and bookwriters Beguelin and Bob Martin, The Prom has some of the same sweetness and wit of The Drowsy Chaperone, for which Martin co-wrote the book. Despite the fact that it makes the hurdles the Broadway do-gooders must overcome to get to its happy ending very low indeed, the songs have some lovely melodies and are mostly well-performed by a solid cast. As Emma, Kaden Kearney is wondrous: their voice is as smooth and sweet as caramel, and they portray Emma as a very reluctant hero, often hugging herself or thrusting her hands in her pockets, anything to fly as far under the radar as possible.
At the other end of the spectrum are Dee Dee and Barry, for whom "offstage" is a concept as foreign as considering someone else's needs above their own. "I have never said this to someone before," Dee Dee offers late in the proceedings, "but tell me about you." Barry is so flamboyant that one half expects the fire department to burst in. "I'm as gay as a bucket of wigs," he shouts. "A bucket of them!"
Though Courtney Balan's voice was a bit weak at times (an off night?) at the performance I attended, her comic chops were in fine form. So too were Bud Weber's as Trent, the handsome young actor who simply can't stop talking about the fact he went to Juilliard.
While The Prom may be a little lightweight in addressing the very heavy problems of intolerance and homophobia, one can forgive its cotton candy-ish nature because–like Emma herself–it's so utterly likeable and honest.
The Prom runs through July 17, 2022, at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street, San Francisco CA. Tickets range from $56 - $256. For tickets and information, please call 888-746-1799 or visit broadwaysf.com. For more information on the tour, visit theprommusical.com/tour/.