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THE PROM: BETTER THAN YOUR HIGH SCHOOL DANCE By Peter Filichia

Once again, I wish that the Tonys would give an award for Best
Song.

It really should, you know. Note that The Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences has dispensed an annual Oscar for Best Song since 1934. You’d think that the Tonys, which has a Best Musical category
– which the Oscars don’t – would have awarded a Best Song
beginning with the awards’ inception in 1946.

No. Never. And although this 2018-2019 season has some time to go,
I’d say that if the Tony Administration Committee gets on the ball
and establishes a Best Song category, the smart money would be on
THE PROM’S “Dance with You.”

The song, courtesy of composer Matthew Sklar and lyricist Chad
Beguelin, may be one you’ve already savored. The powers-that-be at
Masterworks Broadway have had it available via Spotify since November 9.
They knew this one was extra-special.

The actual title of the song should have had four words before the
title that Beguelin gave it. However, had he included those, he would
have given away a smidgen of the plot. Such surreptitiousness was wise of Beguelin – and it could have also been anticipated. His show- biz savvy should be no surprise, for he has plenty of Broadway stage- dust on his feet through THE WEDDING SINGER and ELF, which he wrote with Sklar, and ALADDIN, which he did without him.

Dance with You” is only one of the many pleasures on the original
cast album of the much-acclaimed musical now at the Longacre
Theatre. Those who admire Golden Age Broadway melodies and
lyrics will savor the opening song “Changing Lives.” Sklar gave it a
traditional sound to reflect the opening of a Great Big Broadway
Show.

It’s also about the closing of a Great Big Broadway Show. Despite a
rave from The Star-Ledger which makes everyone cheer “This tour
de force will not be forced to tour,” the still-important New York
Times later says nay.

And that, as they say, is that.

So what are the suddenly unemployed Dee Dee (Beth Leavel), Barry
(Brooks Ashmanskas) and Angie (Angie Schworer) going to do with
themselves? They, along with sometimes-actor-but-more-usually-
cater-waiter Trent (Christopher Sieber) decide to head out to Indiana
and support Emma, a young lesbian who’s been barred from taking
her girlfriend to the prom.

Emma (Caitlin Kinnunen) may be out, but Alyssa, the object of her
affection (Isabelle McCalla), definitely doesn’t dare to be. In fact, her
mother (Courtenay Collins) is the prime organizer in keeping Emma
and the Mystery Girl from attending the prom.

We like Emma for deciding to “Just Breathe.” As one of her smart
lyrics goes, “It wouldn’t be high school without a test.”

A test is awaiting our Broadwayites, too. Trent tries to influence the
locals “Let’s all work together to make those rainbow dreams come
true.” Despite the hostile reception, Dee Dee isn’t scared: “I
understand furious townfolk. I did BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.”

At least there’s one person in town who champions Emma and
adores Dee Dee: Mr. Hawkins, the school principal. He’s a Big Fan of
Broadway because its performers “take us away from the soul-
crushing jobs and emasculating pay.”

What’s wonderful about THE PROM is that the Broadwayites come to
town simply to get publicity for themselves, but then become
genuinely involved and concerned about Emma. That’s true of Dee
Dee who eventually realizes that “The Lady’s Improving,” but even
more true of Barry, who becomes Emma’s surrogate father
(especially because her parents have distanced themselves from
her). Barry is no stranger to feminine fashion, so he helps Emma with
a makeover that makes her feel better and get over her problems.

Sklar’s bouncy-jolly melody for this song — “Tonight Belongs to You”
— certainly helps. And if you doubt that THE PROM is au courant, just
look at Beguelin’s second verb in “Try to bat your eyes and smize
each time you grin.”

Later Angie will impart her own advice in “Zazz.” Need a definition?
“Style plus confidence,” she sings. In the grand musical theater
tradition, Emma acquires it by song’s end.

Sklar shows he can write a rave-up spiritual in “Love Thy Neighbor,”
which Trent dispenses to the town’s teens. However, the lyrics aren’t
just by-the-book or by-the-Bible; in fact, they question some of the
philosophies we find there. Hear the song and then decide if Trent’s
points ring true or false to you.

By the middle of the second act, everyone’s point of view has been
examined in song except Alyssa’s. She’ll get her chance now in
“Alyssa Greene.” Through Sklar’s poignant melody and Beguelin’s
sensitive lyric, she muses on the difficulties of having a mother who
expects perfection: “The hair has to be perfect; the ‘A’s’ have to be
straight,” she begins. “Trophies have to be first place; ribbons have
to be blue.” As touching is that is, we’re devastated when we hear
Alyssa’s belief that “Mom’s convinced that if you’re perfect, your
father might come back.”

So Alyssa won’t fight to go to the prom, leaving Emma dateless –
until Barry volunteers to do the honors. In a dashing eleven o’clock
number, he realizes that despite his high school experience of sitting
home that May night, now “Barry Is Going to Prom.”

The song’s potent part occurs when Barry recalls himself as a teen: “I
wish I could tell that sad kid I was to stop crying in his Cheetos. They
say ‘It gets better.’ Guess what? ‘It does!’”

So do Emma’s problems. But the swank New Yorkers aren’t the ones
who come up with the ultimate solution: Emma does. If “smize”
didn’t convince you that THE PROM is up to date, wait till you hear
how Emma emerges victorious. It almost seems impossible when
she’s lamenting her situation in “Unruly Heart.” Sings Emma, “No
matter what the world may say, this heart is the best part of me.”

She’s right. No spoiler here on how it all works out, but be assured
that there’s a wonderfully happy ending and a Sklar earworm in “It’s
Time to Dance.”

As Mr. Hawkins had sung earlier in the show, musicals are “where
the answer to each problem is to burst into a song.” THE PROM may
well have you doing just that as you promenade through 2019.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and each Friday at www.mtishows.com .
He can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com .