Broadway & Indiana Go to “The Prom”

The Prom. Photo by Deen Van Meer
The Prom. Photo by Deen Van Meer

High energy is good, song and dance is great; shaken and stirred together in The Prom, they effervesce. You and your partner of choice are invited to share the love, April 12-17 at the Orpheum.

Seventeen-year-old Emma’s intention to invite a girlfriend prompts such handwringing, consternation, and high moral outrage that Mrs. Green, PTA president, cancels the event altogether rather than draw publicity to Edgewater, Indiana’s James Madison High School.

Enter a troupe of Broadway actors, fresh off a first-night disaster-cum-closing of their musical, Eleanor! The Eleanor Roosevelt Story. Hearing of Emma and the prom kerfuffle, they decide to take up a cause, and head west to Emma’s aid. A hitch is that Emma’s girlfriend is the popular–and closeted–head of Student Council, Alyssa Green, daughter of (drumroll) the formidable PTA president. There follows rough-and-tumble, Feydeau-ish foolery, and final (hardly a spoiler) Happy Ending. 

The National Touring Company of THE PROM. Photo by Deen van Meer

How do the actors themselves relate to the characters’ problem? Have they suffered the angst and isolation of Emma or of actual youth in the viewing audience? Five cast members recently shared thoughts and experiences with Lavender:

     Kaden Kearney “Emma, High School Student, Banned from the Prom,” 

     Kalyn West  “Alyssa Greene, Head of Student Council with a Secret,” 

     Patrick Wetzel “Drama Desk Award Winner Barry Glickman,” 

     Bud Weber  “Trent Oliver, Esteemed Julliard Graduate/Cater Waiter,”  

     Shavey Brown “Sheldon Saperstein, Broadway’s Press Agent with a Plan.”

Do you recognize yourself in aspects of your character? 

KEARNY  “I feel very connected to Emma. Our stories are not exactly the same, but I have always felt very close to her. I came out when I was 17 in high school. I would have loved to go to prom as myself (I never did) and wear a suit and tie. I get to do that now every night. Doing this show is a very healing and celebratory experience for me.

WETZEL “I can definitely relate to the small-town upbringing. Everyone in town knows your business. I suppose the good thing about that is the town folk’s reactions are also exposed. We see you, citizens of Everytown, USA. We see you! The show has taught me to see different perspectives. I hope it does the same for everyone.”

WEST “I grew up being told by society that I was straight, and believing it. I came out later, and was surprised/saddened by how much homophobia I’d internalized. I’m still in the process of untangling it. This is, unfortunately, not an uncommon experience. Our world is still so laden with strict binary heteronormativity–i.e., the countless anti- LGBT/trans bills that are being pushed into legislation across the country. It feels very frightening to be working through questions around my own identity while the world seems to be cracking down on denying the very existence I’m trying to own. So, needless to say, it feels even more important to be telling this story right now.” 

WEBER “I recognize myself a lot in Trent and his eagerness and passion for making a change within the world, but also being able to take a moment and ultimately realize that change has to happen within as well and there is always room to grow and learn as a person.”

Kaden Kearney (they-them) in the National Tour of THE PROM. Photo by Deen Van Meer

Young (and older) audiences are empowered by “being seen.” 

KEARNEY “So much love. This show means a lot to many people, especially young, queer people. I personally have gotten many heartfelt messages from young, non-binary people saying how wonderful it was to see a trans non-binary actor on stage. People feel seen, and that is so important.” 

WEST “Our audiences have been amazing–super excited, loving, and with us from beginning to end. It’s been incredible to bring this story to the local LGBTQIA+ communities across the country. With their lack of representation, they’re so hungry to see themselves on stages and screens. So, it’s been a gift both ways. Not to mention the importance of bringing The Prom to real world communities that need and deserve it, who don’t necessarily have access to Broadway in New York. This show is special, and representation matters.!” 

Has performing in The Prom caused you to consider additional aspects of the issues portrayed?

BROWN “Hi there! I’m a gay black man. Very proud of that. I think The Prom asks us to look closer at our beliefs and how we view others who think differently. This show has made me ask more questions. We’ve come so far, but we have states wanting to get rid of literature with the word “gay,” so a show like The Prom can’t be seen at schools, or wanting to get rid of books talking about our history of race which goes hand in hand. And for me, the learning more about the non-binary community and adding that knowledge to myself and teachings to my kids.

KEARNEY “This show is an important reminder that we have not arrived at acceptance yet. That every person, every community must venture on a journey of challenging biases against LGBT people. It can be easy to forget how far we still have to come, and yet we see it in all of the anti-LGBT legislation happening.” 

WEBER “I think no matter what community you identify or see yourself in, there is a universal message in the show that you can connect with and learn from [others]. Who hasn’t felt different and wanted to be celebrated for their differences instead of being considered an outcast? Especially with how divided the world seems right now, I think it’s important for everyone to remember we’re all human and are deserving of love and acceptance.”

You come from varied backgrounds and upbringings. Does The Prom reflect your background? 

KEARNEY “I was raised in a town that was “liberal” but not necessarily accepting. Emma’s experience is quite different in her town with her peers. When I was in high school no one talked about queer people, it was like it didn’t exist. I am so honored to be in this cast and tell this story alongside such wonderful people every night.

BROWN “Well, I’m gay and I grew up in Ohio, the state next to Indiana, where our show takes place, and my experience was totally different. For me race is always an issue… that comes to play even before my sexual orientation. But being part of this show with such inclusivity and diversity is a joy. To show that gender comes in many different forms and colors. 

WEST “I identify as bisexual and queer, as well as mixed race, and I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was also raised by a single mother, with an absent father, and an out-of-balance sense of perfectionism. Though I was not raised in the church, I was surrounded by it, and that definitely made owning myself more difficult.  So, I see and feel a lot of parallels between myself and Alyssa. This helps me tell her story, gives me a sense of honor in telling her story, but it also means that it can be very personally taxing for me since it’s so close to home. I am grateful for the opportunity to fill her shoes and tend to both our hearts each night.” 

What audience reactions to Prom have you experienced?

WEBER  “We have seen a wide variety of responses from people. I think it’s an important story about acceptance that everyone is able to learn and take something from. 

WETZEL  “SO MUCH LOVE!! I love how the audience is caught off guard on an emotional level throughout the evening.” 

BROWN “It’s a comedy for sure, but what strikes one is the emotional capacity it takes. Seeing people cry of joy and hope at the end is simply beautiful.”

Has being in this show changed or strengthened your feelings about the characters and their difficulties?

WEST  “Being a part of The Prom has deepened my belief that connection, communication, and compassion are the cornerstones of change. It is so easy to judge others, and put them into boxes; to put ourselves in boxes; but that is exactly what keeps us fearful and hurting. The more we are willing to share space and conversation with each other, the more we’re able to understand that our perspectives are not the only ones. That there is space for everyone. We strengthen our ability to have empathy for each other. This is the profound magic of storytelling, and this is the profound magic of the truths that are spoken in this show. 

Have you personally experienced any similar problems?

BROWN “Oh, we don’t have the time to discuss what I’ve been through with being a gay black man. But what I will say is this; It’s more than just nodding our heads and saying “I hear you” it takes us to take actual steps in BEING better and DOING better. Start the change within yourself and others will follow.

WETZEL “I can’t say I had problems similar to Emma’s. But I can relate to being afraid of being my true authentic self. That is something we can all relate to regardless of how we identify.”

The Prom. Photo by Deen Van Meer

Is there anything else you’d like to say to Lavender readers?

KEARNEY “This show reminds us that we all have the power to challenge our beliefs for the better.” 

BROWN “Come see The Prom. It’s a fun, big, beautiful, and heartwarming show.”

WEBER “I want everyone to know that this musical is for everyone. You’re gonna laugh, you’re gonna cry, you’re gonna leave singing the songs.”

WETZEL

“Working on this show doesn’t feel like a job. It feels like a gift to be able to tell it to so many people. I have nothing but love for this experience and this story”

WEST “This show is all heart. You’ll leave with a smile on your face, songs stuck in your head, and love in your pocket. All unruly hearts are welcome and encouraged to shine. To queer kids everywhere – this is for you. I see you and love you.” 

The Prom

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