Porthouse Theatre’s production of ‘The Prom’ is the stuff dreams are made of
A unanimous cheering standing ovation...that is the highest reward that an audience can pay to an exceptional musical theater performance. It takes a multitude of elements to achieve this rare feat that includes an exceptional cast, captivating story line, great orchestra, great lighting, crisp sound, intuitive directing and a popular show.
Such was the case on opening night with the Porthouse Theater’s production of “The Prom”. All the elements were there including the slow dramatic build-up to the climatic ending that triggered the audience’s joyful reaction.
“The Prom” features music by Matthew Skylar with lyrics by Chad Bequelin and book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin (based on an original concept by Jack Viertel). The show had tryouts at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta Georgia in 2016 before premiering on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre in October of 2018. This was followed by a film adaptation produced and directed by Ryan Murphy that was released on Netflix in December of 2020.
Dee Dee Allen (Sandra Montevideo) and Barry Glickman (Eric van Baars) are two overly narcissistic Broadway performers who are close to “aging out”. Their latest performance in “Eleanor! The Eleanor Roosevelt Story” ends up closing after its first performance when The New York Times critic slams the actors for being so self absorbed that they totally miss the essence of the characters of Eleanor and Franklin.
As they lick their wounds and lubricate their anguish they are joined by bar tender Trent Oliver (Morgan Thomas-Mills), a Julliard School alumni who has been stuck in a perpetual non-Equity “Godspell” tour and Angie Dickinson (Amy Frische), a chorus girl for life member of the “Chicago” cast still hoping for a shot at playing Roxie Hart after twenty years.
The quartet decides that they need a desperate social make-over...something that will make them appear less needy and more like they actually care about something...anything. Various ideas are floated such as the absolving the Electoral College, eliminating poverty and Habitat for Humanity but are voted down due to their complexity of lack of skills on their part. A quick search on Twitter reveals their cause du jour. Emma Nolan (Lane LaVonne) is a teenager in Edgewater, Indiana whose prom was canceled by the PTA when they found out that she was a lesbian and wished to take her girl friend to the prom as her date.
Seizing the opportunity and with some personal connections attached to the cause the four crusaders bus to Indiana with Trent’s non-equity “Godspell” touring troupe. With the prom canceled, Emma is now being bullied by the students. The principle, Mr. Hawkins (Dante Murrary), is on Emma’s side and has gone as far as contacting the State Attorney to pursue the matter. The actors bombastically arrive just as the PTA is about to reverse their decision. The resulting chaos is enough for the PTA to stay with their original decision of no prom.
It is soon revealed that Emma’s significant other is Alyssa Greene (Jocelyn Trimmer) a popular but closeted student and no less the daughter of Mrs. Greene (Lara Troyer), the president of the PTA. Emma and Alyssa argue as Alyssa blames Emma for all this unwanted publicity and outrage. Meanwhile, the actors along with the Godspell cast hold a rally during the halftime show at a local monster truck meet and are booed off the stage.
Word comes through that the State Attorney has ruled that the school must hold a prom. Dee Dee and Mr. Hawkins (who have become an item) go to Apples & Bees (Dee Dee’s nomenclature for Applebees) to celebrate. The students are “promposing” to each other as Emma officially asks Alyssa to the prom with Alyssa accepting. Barry helps Emma get ready for the big night as across town the rest of the student body does the same. As they arrive at the school Emma asks Barry to walk her into the school gym because of her nerves. They enter an empty gym realizing that the prom as secretly been staged at another location with this “prom” just for Emma.
Dee Dee goes ballistic, taking this as a personal slight against her. Mr. Hawkins gets upset with Dee Dee due to her continuing narcissistic attitude. Emma calls Alyssa whose mother took her to the other prom asking Alyssa to join her at the school. Alyssa refuses. Emma tells the actors to just go home and runs out of the gym.
One of the top reasons that this production is such a success is due to the high quality of the actors. It takes a superb cast to take a serious subject matter that is written as a light comedy while keeping the message and the humor intact. Sandra Montevideo as Dee Dee and Eric van Baars as Barry are a perfect fit playing the characters large and loud. Morgan Thomas-Mills as Trent and Amy Fritsche as Angie have their comic peaks as well. Trent’s “Love Thy Neighbor” is an absolute hoot combining a telling message with wonderfully fun lyrics. Joseph Ball as Sheldon takes a minor role and expands it as an integral part of the show. Lane LaVonne as Emma Nolan is perfect as the unwanted focus of an out of control situation. Likewise is Jocelyn Trimmer as Alyssa. Dante Murray is the high school principle that we all wished that we had. Lara Troyer as Mrs. Green gives a perfectly balanced performance as the PTA president.
The show is artfully directed by Terri J. Kent. Martin Cespedes pulls off yet another miracle with the inspired choreography that is integral for its entertainment quality. Jaemin Park does an excellent job with the lighting along with Bethy Winters with the sound design. Tony Hardin invents a remarkable revolving stage set. The thirteen piece orchestra is outstanding with Alexander Marr (Conductor/Piano), Kathryn Sees (Keyboards), Don Day (Bass), Chandler Carpenter (Guitar), Michael Potter-Schneider (Violin/Viola), Laura McLaughlin (Violin 1), Hannah Benjamin (Cell0), Craig Wohlschlager (Reed 1), Summer Canter (Reed 2), Stephen Stavnicky (Trumpet 1), Dave Banks (Trumpet 2) and Scott Thomas (Drums/Percussion).
With the combination of seasoned regional actors with students of the Kent State University Theater and Music Departments the result is a superlative show of exceptional quality. Arrive early with your picnic dinner, stroll the spacious grounds and settle in for a great entertainment experience. You will not want to miss this show!
The Porthouse Theatre production of “The Prom” will be on stage on the grounds of Blossom Music Center through August 6, 2023. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.kent.edu/porthouse/prom or call (303) 672-3884.