THE PROM GOES VINYL By Peter Filichia
It’s now becoming a badge of honor for any Broadway musical.
And THE PROM has received it.
No, we’re not talking about Tony nominations, although the show now at the Longacre Theatre recently received seven of them. Of course they’ve been more than welcomed by the show’s performers, staff and crew.
However, these days a musical reaches a significant milestone when it’s considered worthy enough to be released not only as a CD or on downloads, but also on vinyl.
An original cast album released on records isn’t routinely done in the 21st century. Many a musical currently on Broadway can’t boast that its recording company believes in it enough to bring it out it for vinyl-centric consumers.
And yet, here’s THE PROM, with its Best Musical Tony nomination, Best Book nomination (Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin) and Best Score nomination (lyricist Beguelin and composer Matthew Sklar) in a luxurious twelve-by-twelve-inch gatefold album replete with large pictures.
Needless to say, it’s what’s inside that really counts. That brings us to each side of the jacket where a record is ready to slide out and be placed onto a turntable.
That’s where the real fun begins, starting with the trio of Tony-nominees: Beth Leavel, Brooks Ashmanskas and Caitlin Kinnunen, all in good voice, all singing carefully crafted show tunes. Leavel’s “It’s Not About Me” is a hilarious musical comedy lie. Ashmanskas’ “Barry Is Going to Prom” is an eleven o’clocker that shows that delayed adolescence doesn’t mean a slow-tempo song. Kinnunen’s “Dance with You” is in the tradition of those beautiful Broadway ballads that swell up with glorious music.
Because vinyl prides itself on giving out a warmer sound than digital does, “Dance with You” is an especially good fit. For that matter, it’s true of the entire show, for THE PROM is a warm musical.
It doesn’t start out that way. After hard-boiled (and hard-biled) Dee Dee Allen (Leavel) and Barry Glickman (Ashmanskas) endure an opening night closing of their new musical – as well as critics’ charges that they’re narcissistic – they decide their best interests will be served if they embrace An Altruistic Cause. Now – what’s a good one?
Ah! Indiana high-schooler Emma Nolan (Kinnunen) has been told she can’t bring her girlfriend to the prom. So Dee Dee, Barry – as well as colleagues Angie and Trent – decide to help.
Help themselves, that is.
As we all know, though, There’s No People Like Show People. So the troupe winds up becoming emotionally involved in a way none of them could have ever imagined.
Let’s not neglect two other characters who come from The Big Apple to this little town. Angie Schworer, whose character (also named Angie) admits to being greatly influenced by CHICAGO, sings about all that “Zazz.” Christopher Sieber gives new meaning to Bible study in “Love Thy Neighbor.” As for the Indiana contingent, Isabelle McCalla, the object of Emma’s affection, tells how difficult life can be when you’re “Alyssa Greene.”
Donald Tesione, a musical theater enthusiast who prides himself on buying every available vinyl original cast album, has told me why he prefers records to CDs.
“It may just be me,” he concedes, “but I truly believe that the stereo balance is better on vinyl. I find that the sound manages to somehow expand and fill my living room in a way that CDs don’t.”
He acknowledges that when he goes on road trips, twelve-inch vinyl albums can’t be employed the way CDs can – but, he insists, that’s not the whole story.
“When I’m driving,” says Tesione, “I find myself only half-listening to the music – which is all for the best, because I should be paying more attention to the road than to the music. Vinyl, though, means staying home, where I’m more inclined to pour a glass of wine, put on my headphones, sit still and really listen.”
And there’s another reason why some people prefer vinyl, although it may not appeal to anyone who’s reached any kind of maturity. I bring it up because of a conversation I once had at The Broadway Flea Market.
I’m always there each September at the table for the Theatre World Awards (for I head its nominating committee and emcee its annual ceremony). Next to us was a table where vinyl records were being sold for a dollar each. A boy who hadn’t yet reached his teens was sifting through original cast albums, pulling the records out of their sleeves, examining them carefully for scratches and selecting which he’d buy.
He chose THE SOUND OF MUSIC and OLIVER! Now if he’d selected GREENWICH VILLAGE, U.S.A or HOW TO STEAL AN ELECTION, I’d have understood, for those haven’t been released in any digital form. But THE SOUND OF MUSIC and OLIVER! were made available on those formats long before he came into the world. It had to be the price, right?
The kid saw the confused expression on my face and immediately understood what I was thinking. “I like records because my grandfather has one of those phonographs that have four different speeds.”
He saw more confusion on my face.
“I have a lot of fun playing these records at the faster speeds. I laugh all the time when I play ‘It’s the Hard-Knock Life’ and ‘You’re Never Fully Dressed without a Smile’ on 45 or 78, because the girls sound so funny,” he said before giggling at the thought of it. “You can’t do that with CDs, because they only have one speed. I can’t wait to hear ‘Do-Re-Mi’ and ‘Food, Glorious Food’ going so much faster.”
So here’s your chance to put your needle on Brooks Ashmanskas’ already frenetic “Barry Is Going to Prom” and take it up a notch.
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.