The Arlington Players come out with a snazzy and spirited ‘Prom’

A real-life civil rights issue comes to life with musical dance numbers that dazzle and dialogue that charms.

The Prom is a musical comedy based on true events: in 2010, a high school student in Mississippi planned to bring her girlfriend to the senior prom. The school board banned the lesbian student from attending, leading to a federal court case and a whirlwind media storm.  Who would ever imagine that a civil rights case out of Mississippi would lead to a sparkly, campy, Broadway phenomenon?

The Arlington Players bring this captivating story to life once again, with musical dance numbers that dazzle and dialogue that charms. In the fictionalized retelling, four narcissistic Broadway actors decide to become celebrity activists in order to boost their reputations. They settle on resolving the plight of Emma, an Indiana teen who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom, much to the chagrin of the PTA. Bursting onto the scene of the small town in a dramatic fashion, the Broadway stars end up creating even more strife and stirring the pot until it overflows.

Maura Lacy, Judy Lewis, Patrick M. Doneghy, and Eric Kennedy in ‘The Prom.’ Photo by Matt Liptak.

There are several standout performances from the talented cast. Patrick M. Doneghy plays Broadway star Barry Glickman with a perfect blend of humor, sass, and warmth. Eric Kennedy as Trent Oliver, a washed-up actor who is only recognized for his appearance on a ’90s sitcom, has a hilarious and compelling stage presence. Judy Lewis plays the dramatic diva Dee Dee Allen with confidence and grace. The chemistry among these actors and the rest of the cast (including Emily Carbone as Emma, Phil Krzywicki as Mr. Hawkins, the kind-hearted principal, and Jummy Lash as sweet Alyssa Greene, Emma’s girlfriend) is deliciously palpable, and the harmonious union of talent is endlessly enjoyable.

The script is filled with hilarious and memorable one-liners, both spoken and sung. Emily Carbone as Emma Nolan sings in her first solo: “Note to self: Don’t be gay in Indiana.” Kennedy’s Trent Oliver triumphantly announces to a town of horrified Midwesterners: “We’re liberal democrats from Broadway!” While the play centers on a serious topic, there’s scarcely a hint of somberness about the pressing issue at hand. Instead, the production leans into laughs and gaffes.

The most earnest the show gets is in Emma’s solo performances, such as “Just Breathe” and “Unruly Heart.” Carbone plays Emma with sincerity and heart. The character isn’t interested in using her story as a rallying tale; all she wants is to dance with her girlfriend at the prom. Carbone’s performance brings a groundedness to an otherwise whimsical production. But even Emma has her comedic moments, and overall, The Prom is shamelessly playful and waggish.

The set design by Matt Lipak and Dave Moretti is clever and economical, making thrifty use of a few key set pieces. Projections set the mood in each scene, from a New York City red carpet to an Indiana monster truck rally. The sets for each scene are crafted with attentive details, such as the quaint Applebee’s where Dee Dee Allen and Mr. Hawkins begin to swoon over each other, and Emma’s teenage bedroom, filled with band posters and pride stickers.

The show plays around with dance numbers in a unique and entertaining fashion. While the troupe of Broadway stars dance in the style of a classic musical comedy, favoring poise and grace, the young teenagers of James Madison High School are hip-hop to the core, with performances that radiate energy. This contrast is hugely enjoyable to watch on stage.

TOP: Emily Carbone and Jummy Lash; ABOVE: The Cast, in ‘The Prom.’ Photos by Matt Liptak.

The Prom is in many ways a musical about theater itself. In the song “We Look to You,” Mr. Hawkins tells Dee Dee about his lifelong love of the theater, and how it lets him escape his everyday life and experience unbridled joy. This is a central theme of the show, which ties in references to other famous Broadway shows like Wicked and Chicago throughout the script and spends much time unpacking the histories of the Broadway stars who become Emma’s crusaders. The actors provide Emma with the idea that some theatrics, or a little “zazz,” can be a way to gain the confidence needed to stand up to her oppressors. Theater is also presented as an important vessel for compassion. In one telling scene, a high school student tells Trent they don’t have a drama department. Trent replies, “That explains your general lack of empathy.”

In The Prom, we come to understand that theater brings many things into our lives: entertainment, joy, enlightenment, and empathy. This lively and hilarious musical comedy with a band of lovable characters at its core delivers on all fronts. Although inspired by real-life events that are less than joyful, the show shies away from becoming too morose, choosing to lighten the mood with witty retorts and corny songs about acceptance, and it ultimately feels like the right choice for this production. Just like Emma, The Prom doesn’t want to be a social justice martyr. It just wants to dance, and that it does.

Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

The Prom plays through April 7, 2024, presented by The Arlington Players performing at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre, 125 South Old Glebe Road, Arlington, VA. Tickets ($30 for adults, $25 for seniors and military, and $20 for students and children) can be purchased online or by contacting The Box Office at 703-549-1063 or via email ([email protected]).

The Prom
Book & Lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Book by Bob Martin
Music by Matthew Sklar
Based on an original concept by Jack Viertel

Emma Nolan: Emily Carbone
Dee Dee Allen: Judy Lewis
Barry Glickman: Patrick M. Doneghy
Alyssa Greene: Jummy Lash
Mr. Hawkins: Phil Krzywicki
Angie Dickinson: Maura Lacy
Mrs. Greene: Maria Ciarrocchi
Trent Oliver: Eric Kennedy
Sheldon Saperstein: Peter Fannon
Kaylee: Olivia Clavel-Davis
Kevin: Garrett Walsh
Nick: Alex Lew
Shelby: Amelia Jacquat
Godspell Troupe: Sean Cator, Jonathan Grygiel, Cole Jaconski, Rachel Jennings, Lourdes Turnblom
Student Ensemble: Kevin Donlan Jr., Stephany Guadalupe, Jeffery Hollands, Alexandra Lagos, Luke Martin, Kendall Pomerleau
Adult Ensemble: Amber J. Breland, Sean Cator, Jonathan Grygiel, Cole Jaconski, Rachel Jennings, Anna Marquadt, Todd Paul, Lourdes Turnblom, Dino Leonard Vergura Jr.

Directed by Joanna Henry; Produced by Sandy Kozel and Steven Yates; Assistant Director Rachel Alberts; Music Direction by Blakeman Brophy; Choreography by Jeremy A. McShan; Assistant to the Choreographer Jessica Stahl; Stage Managers Christine Farrell and Jennifer Rhorer; Assistant Stage Manager Katie Lewis; Dance Captain Amelia Jacquat; Set Design by Matt Lipak and Dave Moretti; Lead Carpenter Skip Gresko; Set/Scenic Painter Journey Donovan; Technical Projection Design/Special Effects by Matt Lipak and Dave Moretti; Costume Design by Joan Lawrence; Lighting Design by Jeffery Auerbach and Kimberly Crago


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