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The Prom
Book by Bob Martin & Chad Beguelin
Music by Matthew Sklar, Lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Directed and Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
The Fox Theatre
January 28th, 2022

Kaden Kearney
Photo by Deen Van Meer
The Prom North American Tour

The Prom is a Tony-nominated musical with several St. Louis connections among its producers. It also was made into a Netflix film with an all-star cast. Here, in the show’s touring company based on the Broadway production, there are no “household names” in the cast, but there’s plenty of star power and a lot of energy on stage at the Fabulous Fox, as the story of a small town high school, a teenage girl,  a prom controversy and some (eventually) well-meaning Broadway meddlers comes to St. Louis in a memorable and crowd-pleasing production.

The story starts where this show earned its accolades: on Broadway, as  a pair of egotistical veteran Broadway performers, Dee Dee Allen (Ashley Bruce) and Barry Glickman (Patrick Wetzel) are at a swanky after party for their just opened musical about Eleanor Roosevelt, where they played the leads. When the reviews don’t go so well and their publicist, Sheldon Saperstein (Thad Turner Wilson) tells them their narcissistic image needs improving, they get the idea of doing some kind of good deed to get publicity. Their colleague, perpetual chorus member Angie (Emily Borromeo) looks on her phone and sees a trending story about high school student Emma (Kaden Kearney), a lesbian who has been told that she can’t take another girl to the prom with her, so the school has canceled the prom altogether. The three, along with Sheldon and  “between gigs” actor Trent (Jordan Alexander), decide that they will make Emma their cause, and so they head to Indiana. At the high school, Emma struggles with the idea of being the “face” of a growing controversy and being ridiculed by her classmates and blamed for the lack of a prom. Meanwhile, her intended prom date, Alyssa (Kalyn West), is afraid to go public because nobody knows about her sexual orientation or her relationship with Emma, including her perfectionist mother, PTA president Mrs. Greene (Ashanti J’Aria), who is strongly opposed to the idea of holding an inclusive prom. The school’s principal, Mr. Hawkins (Christopher McCrewell), is on Emma’s side, and is trying to go through legal channels to help, but finds his plans and his life disrupted by the arrival of the actors, including Dee Dee, of whom he is a longtime fan, but who may not live up to his idealistic image of her.

That description is just the beginning, as we learn more about the characters as the story plays out in sometimes predictable but sometimes surprising ways. It’s mostly a broad comedy with a lot of knowing humor about theatre and Broadway actors in particular, as well as portraying inter-generational friendships and lessons in tolerance, communication and, as one upbeat song explains, the biblical ideal of “Love Thy Neighbor”. There’s exuberant dancing choreographed by director Casey Nicholaw, as well as some more humorous and poignant moments. It’s a fun show, with a lot of big, Broadway energy and good deal of small town charm.

The cast is especially strong, and particularly impressive in that there are more than a few understudies performing. Bruce, Wilson, Alexander, and McCrewell were all covering for the principal performers, and all gave excellent performances and wouldn’t be easily picked out as understudies, except that Bruce slightly underplays the over-the-top Dee Dee. The standouts, though, are the terrific Kearney, who shows off a lot of heart, stage presence and a great voice as Emma, and Wetzel, as the larger-than-life Barry, who has some great bonding moments with Emma. There’s also a strong and enthusiastic ensemble to fill out the cast.

Technically, the show is big, bold, and colorful, with dazzling sets Scott Pask that fill out the Fox stage well, as well as excellent detailed costumes by Ann Roth and Matthew Pachtman. Natasha Katz’s lighting also adds sparkle and style to the proceedings, and Brian Ronan’s sound design is crisp and clear. There’s also a strong orchestra conducted by Chris Gurr. 

There are a lot of memorable characters in The Prom, and an overall emphasis on the importance of communication, humility, kindness, and bravery as well as tolerance and acceptance. With a fun, memorable score and a big, enthusiastic cast, it entertains and leaves a memorable impression. It’s a show I had heard a lot about, and I’m glad I finally was able to see.

Cast of The Prom
Photo by Deen Van Meer
The Prom North American Tour

The North American Tour of The Prom is playing at the Fox Theatre until February 6, 2022

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The Drowsy Chaperone
Music and Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison
Book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar
Directed by Michael Hamilton
Choreographed by Dana Lewis
STAGES St. Louis
July 27, 2016

David Schmittou Photo by Peter Wochniak STAGES St. Louis

David Schmittou
Photo by Peter Wochniak
STAGES St. Louis

The Drowsy Chaperone is apparently one of the most popular shows that STAGES St. Louis has produced. I didn’t see their last production, in 2009, nor had I seen any production of the show prior to this latest staging, although now I certainly can see the appeal. This is a tribute not only to “classic” 1920’s musicals, but to the whole concept of musical theatre in general. At STAGES, it’s a well-cast, richly produced, energetic and fun production that’s sure to entertain.

The show is a twist on the concept of the “play within a play”, as a protagonist and musical theatre aficionado identified only as Man in Chair (David Schmittou) introduces the audience to one of his favorite (fictional) musicals from 1928, called The Drowsy Chaperone. Man in Chair is a veritable fountain of information about this show, including anecdotes about the production and biographical information about the original cast members. As he plays the record, the show comes to life in his apartment, and what we see is broad, satirized representation of a typical 1920’s musical, complete with broad humor, a relatively thin plot, stereotyped characterizations, and lots of big, glitzy production numbers. The story follows the wedding plans of Broadway starlet Janet Van De Graaff (Laura E. Taylor) to a man she only recently met, Robert Martin (Andrew Fitch). Her boss, Feldzieg (Steve Isom) wants to keep her from getting married so she won’t leave his show, and ditzy chorus girl Kitty (Dana Winkle) hopes he will consider her as a replacement. There’s also the title character, the Chaperone (Corinne Melancthon), who is “drowsy” because she is constantly drinking, although she tries her best to offer sage advice to Janet. Other characters include would-be Latin lover Aldopho (Edward Juvier), who’s hired by Feldzeig to seduce Janet; the enthusiastic and slightly silly party host Mrs. Tottendale (Kari Ely) and her faithful butler and assistant known only as Underling (John Flack); and the optimistic Best Man, George (Con O’Shea-Creal), for whom tap dancing is the best solution to any problem.  It’s a big cast and a convoluted, extremely self-aware plot, as Man in Chair gets involved in the proceedings and expounds on his own philosophy of life and the purpose and importance of musical theatre.

This is an extremely clever show that both criticizes and celebrates old-style musical theatre, as well as presenting a sympathetic narrator in the person of Man in Chair, who is expertly and wittily portrayed by the superb David Schmittou. His winning performance is the centerpiece of this show as he becomes the point of interaction between the audience and the characters in the play-within-a-play. The rest of the cast is extremely strong as well, with standouts being Melancon as the hilariously “drowsy” Chaperone, Taylor as the glamorously goofy Janet, and Ely and Flack as the hilarious team of Mrs. Tottendale and Underling. Ryan Alexander Jacobs and Austin Glen Jacobs are also a lot of fun as a pair of comically overplayed gangsters. Juvier as Aldopho gives a winning comic performance as well, and Fitch and O’Shea-Creal show off their impressive tap dancing skills as Robert and George. The entire cast is excellent and full of energy as well, highlighting stand-out production numbers like “Fancy Dress”, “Show Off”, “Toledo Surprise”, and “I Do I Do In the Sky”, which also features a strong vocal performance by Kendra Lynn Lucas as Trix the Aviatrix.

The technical aspects of this production are stunning, as well. James Wolk’s set is marvelously versatile, transforming from Man in Chair’s modest apartment to various locations in the play-within-a-play with seamless precision. Sean M. Savoie’s lighting also helps to maintain the whimsical tone of the show, and Brad Musgrove’s costumes are sensational. From Man in Chair’s comfy sweater vest to the more colorful period dresses and suits, and the glitzy glamour of the ensemble in the production numbers, the costumes are a real highlight of the show. The whole tone of 1920’s-meets-present-day is wonderfully achieved in this expertly crafted production.

I’m glad this production at STAGES has served as my introduction to The Drowsy Chaperone. Such a cleverly written, funny and heartwarming musical deserves a first-rate production like this one. It’s truly spectacular, with a fantastic finale. It’s a highlight of the summer theatre season in St. Louis.

Cast of The Drowsy Chaperone Photo by Peter Wochniak STAGES St. Louis

Cast of The Drowsy Chaperone
Photo by Peter Wochniak
STAGES St. Louis

STAGES St. Louis’s production of The Drowsy Chaperone is running at the Robert G. Reim Theatre in Kirkwood until August 21, 2016.

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