The Theatre Raleigh Arts Center is known for being a beautiful, welcoming space. But, these days, if you walk past the lobby and into the main stage area, it looks exactly like a high school gym, right down to the mascot on the wall and the shiny floors. The believable set design (Benedict Fancy) is absolutely perfect for Theatre Raleigh’s latest production, The Prom, a fun, fanciful musical that transports viewers right back to their high school days. Featuring a book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin and music by Matthew Sklar, this production has lots of heart and lots to love.
The fun begins when two hopelessly narcissistic actors, Dee Dee Allen (Amy Spanger) and Barry Glickman (Josh Franklin) bomb on Broadway. In an effort to improve their images, they decide to adopt a cause . . . one that will make them appear caring and selfless. Two more actors, Trent (Daniel James Canady) and Angie (Kate McMillan), get in on the action, and before they know it, they’ve set their collective sights on Emma (Ella Frederickson), a young girl who has been denied a prom because her desired date happens to be female. The actors travel all the way to unfamiliar Indiana to stage a protest and help Emma have the prom she deserves.
Speaking of Emma, she’s introduced in the second scene, and it’s well worth the wait. Frederickson’s soft delivery and powerful vocals create an Emma that is sweet, sympathetic, and endearingly vulnerable. As she belts out the lyrics to the tender-but-bubbly “Just Breathe” and, later, “Dance With You,” the audience feels for her character and aligns itself with her. Similarly, Lav Raman is perfectly cast as her young, fearful partner, Alyssa. Together, the two tug at the heartstrings and keep viewers rooting for their relationship from start to finish.
While they handle the heavy, emotional scenes, the aforementioned “struggling actors” take care of the comedy. Franklin is never afraid to be over-the-top in his role as Barry, and his inappropriately youthful fashion sense adds to the fun, thanks largely to Malissa Borden’s sparkling costume design. Canady’s Trent is perfectly pompous, and McMillan and Frederickson add equal parts bitterness and snobbery to their characters. Of course, that’s not to say that these characters are nothing but laughingstocks. Despite their imperfections and their propensity to do the right things for the wrong reasons, there’s plenty to like about them. In fact, as the story plays out, they slowly grow into better people, proving that their hearts aren’t really in the wrong place after all . . . at least not totally.
The script takes many twists and turns, including a somber one at the end of the first act, but the fun, raucous energy never falters. Tim Sieb’s smooth direction and Lisette Glodowski’s precise choreography, along with a large, energized ensemble cast, keep things flowing. Plus, Tedd Szeto and Dana Marks give memorable supporting performances. Szeto is sweetly charming in his role as Emma’s principal, Mr. Hawkins, while Marks makes for a believable villain. Add all of this to some huge, in-your-face musical numbers, including “The Acceptance Song” and “Love Thy Neighbor,” that pull out all the stops without a hitch in sight, and you’ve got one unforgettable production.
All things considered, The Prom is both silly and important . . . kind of like a real prom. Its characters face harsh truths about themselves and strive to find the good in others, even when it’s buried deep. Everyone can find something (or someone) to relate to here. And, amid the laughter, there are moments for contemplation. That’s because, at its heart, The Prom is about the courage it takes to find yourself and truly be who you are.
Viewers can dance the night away through August 13, and tickets are available here.
Insider tip: Grab a picture in front of the prom backdrop in the lobby or purchase a retro-style prom mug. You won’t regret it!
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