On February 17, we were invited by Carleton alum and former Carletonian writer Jennifer Weismann’91 to review the Michael Brindisi-directed production of “The Prom ” at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ press night. After a sleepy one-hour journey to Chanhanssen, we were greeted by a dazzling venue illuminated by softly lit candles. This one-of-a-kind theater experience was complemented by an array of delicious foods such as sirloin steak, coconut shrimp and the most decadent desserts — a rare delicacy after a whole term of exclusively LDC and Burton offerings. Chanhassen Dinner Theatres is the first regional theater to bring The Prom, a heartwarming comedy about love, acceptance and a small town’s battle to evolve, to life.
Starring Monty Hays as Emma Nolan and Maya Richardson as Emma’s love interest Alyssa Greene, “The Prom” is a hilarious, endearing and startlingly relevant regional premiere of the hit Boadway musical that was nominated for Best Musical and Best Musical Score
Tony Awards in 2019. With its 2020 star-studded Netflix major picture adaptation containing the likes of Meryl Streep and James Corden, the magic of this story is spreading to ever-wider audiences. Expressing his admiration for the show, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ resident artistic director and president Michael Brindisi said: “The Prom” is one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen and has us excited on so many levels. We’re proud to share our own production of this hit show that pays tribute to the classic Broadway musical comedy.”
The play opens with a boisterous musical number that encompasses everything you think of when you hear “Broadway” — sparkling costumes, powerful vocals and, of course, dancing. Here, the audience is introduced to two fabulous-but-fading Broadway stars, Dee Dee Allen (played by Jodi Carmeli) and Barry Glickman (played by Tod Petersen). But all fun must come to an end. After taking blows to their large egos by means of negative reviews on their recent Broadway performances, the two self-absorbed actors set out to re-establish their names in the public eye, searching for a
journalistically “in” event to raise their public profile through “activism.” They find the perfect “project” in a small Indiana town that was recently rocked when a group of parents and school officials try to prevent a female high school student, Emma, from bringing her girlfriend to prom.
Barry, making classist remarks about the abhorrence of Walmart shopping, and Dee Dee, unaware that Applebees is a chain, do more harm than good as they gain their footing in Indiana. Utterly convinced of their own sincerity while regularly breaking out into over-the-top, often misguided song and dance, the Broadway stars caricaturize the out-of-touch elite engaging in performative activism: a phenomenon with which we are all too familiar.
But then everything changes. Once intending to use Emma’s struggle solely as a means to improve their public image, the Broadway stars begin to see her humanity through their interactions with her. From this, they develop an authentic determination to make Emma feel as though she belongs, transitioning from displays of egocentric performative activism to legitimate personal conversations regarding their own experiences with sexuality, family and inclusion. It is change, not just in Emma’s situation but also in the characters of the Broadway stars, derived from the realization that ego preservation does nothing.
When asked about the main goal of the play, both Monty and Maya expressed the same sentiment. Monty (who plays Emma) wants “someone to know that they are safe somewhere. It’s scary out there and we are all as uncertain as you but for now we are all safe.” Similarly, Maya said: “I just hope that there is someone in the audience that sees themselves reflected up on stage. I hope it surprises them in the most beautiful way they could have ever dreamed of and that they have an easier time looking in the mirror and spending time with themselves. Because I think if you can love a character that is close to you, you can learn how to love yourself. And that’s the goal, isn’t it, at the end of the day.”
The overarching theme of the play was the desire to be accepted. Our protagonist Emma and her girlfriend, Alyssa, are fighting to be acknowledged for who they are. And in real life, the struggle is just the same. We hope that in the chaos of finals week, you guys, our lovely readers, find a safe place to shine brightly and show the world who you really are. As Maya, who plays Alyssa, says, “Be confident. Live in the silliness and dance in your room and pretend you’re doing a world tour.” (Funny, coming from someone who really does world tours.)
“The Prom” is being played from February 10 to June 10 2023, sweeping visitors on a journey from complete darkness to a world full of sparkle and “Zazz!”
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