Peppermint Creek Theatre Co.’s latest production, “The Prom,” is the first prom I’ve been to. Yes, I was one of those tragic figures who had an emotional void where memories of prom should have been. That void has now been filled.
Based loosely on true events, the story centers around Emma Nolan (Lizabeth Desmet), a lesbian teen who wants to take her girlfriend to prom. The school PTA balks, and to avoid a discrimination lawsuit, it cancels prom altogether. A group of four Broadway stars and their publicist, nursing bruised egos and facing irrelevancy, decides to make Nolan’s plight a cause célèbre to help boost their careers.
Arriving in a small Indiana town, the celebrities hatch one ridiculous scheme after another to try to get media attention. One plot culminates with them performing “The Acceptance Song” at a monster truck rally, an anthem so ludicrous that it rhymes “bigotry” with “big of me.” Eventually, their desperation evolves into empathy as they get to know Nolan — and as diva Dee Dee Allen (Amanda DeKatch) gets close to school Principal Mr. Hawkins (Dan McCole).
The script is funny and biting in its commentary on just about everything, including the narcissism of celebrities, the closed-minded attitudes of small-town rednecks, the viciousness of teenagers and the fabulousness of proudly out gay men. In fact, the only character safe from being the butt of a joke is Nolan, who’s the heart of the story and is clearly beloved by its writers, Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin.
The cast includes some of Greater Lansing’s most talented actors, anchored solidly by DeKatch. She has the perfect pipes to belt out Allen’s big numbers, playing the part of the privileged ice queen with panache. Additionally, costume designer Camara Lewis has outfitted DeKatch with fine ensembles that enhance her larger-than-life persona.
Blake Bowen channels actor Nathan Lane as the flamboyant Barry Glickman. At first self-centered, egotistical and desperate, Bowen reveals Glickman’s vulnerability when he talks about his rift with his mother, as well as genuine youthful excitement when he celebrates in the number “Barry Is Going to Prom.”
Desmet’s Nolan is simply adorable. Sensitive, sweet and innocent, she just wants to love whom she loves. Never intending to be a celebrity or to front a cause, Nolan simply hoped to dance with her girlfriend at the prom. As Nolan’s girlfriend, Alyssa Greene, Rachel Daugherty is preppy and peppy but terrified to challenge her mother’s expectations. When Desmet and Daugherty duet, the feelings of longing and love expressed through their well-matched harmonies are heart-wrenchingly beautiful.
It’s a relief that Peppermint Creek finally has a stable home at the Stage One Performing Arts Center in Sycamore Creek Church’s Eastwood campus. The space is cozy and intimate, creating one slight weakness in this production: The stage is just a bit too crowded for the full cast to dance with wild exuberance for the big numbers. Regardless of this minor constraint, “The Prom” has all of the dancing and drama of a prom without the hangovers, blisters and regrets of the real thing.
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