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You’ll want to accept this invitation to ‘The Prom’

From left: Lisa Yuen, Mary Callanan, Johnny Kuntz, and Jared Troilo in "The Prom" at SpeakEasy Stage Company.Nile Scott Studios

SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of “The Prom” is not just a thoroughgoing delight but also, in a way, an act of restoration.

Ryan Murphy’s 2020 film adaptation of “The Prom” loaded this (sometimes overly) sweet, quirky little musical with more weight than it could bear. What had been a take-you-by-surprise charmer on Broadway was transformed into a bloated star vehicle for the likes of Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and James Corden.

SpeakEasy’s production, helmed by producing artistic director Paul Daigneault and choreographed within an inch of its life by Taavon Gamble, is yet another demonstration that when it comes to musicals, you can’t beat live performance, risks and all.


At the heart of “The Prom” is the issue of anti-gay prejudice. Within and around that serious and timely matter, the musical’s creators found time and space to affectionately send up the vanity and self-absorption of some — many? most? — Broadway luminaries.

That singular breed is epitomized by Dee Dee Allen, a diva’s diva portrayed with gusto and wit by Mary Callanan, and Barry Glickman, played by Johnny Kuntz, whose extensive range is on display again as he slowly reveals the wounds beneath Barry’s surface exuberance.

The company of "The Prom."Nile Scott Studios

Dee Dee and Barry face a career crossroads when their musical about Eleanor Roosevelt (!) receives a pulverizing review in The New York Times. Clearly, they need an image makeover. The same is true of fellow thespians Angie Dickinson (you heard me right), portrayed by Lisa Yuen (an excellent and nimble performance), and Trent Oliver (Jared Troilo), who never gets more than two sentences into a conversation before mentioning he went to Juilliard. Troilo is often cast, deservedly, in leading-man roles, but his hugely enjoyable performance in “The Prom” is a reminder of his comedic gifts.

Determined to shed their reputations for narcissism by championing a worthy cause, the actors happen upon the case of Indiana high-schooler Emma Nolan, played by the very impressive Liesie Kelly. A sophomore at Boston Conservatory at Berklee, Kelly sings with strength and clarity while also carrying a substantial dramatic load. Kelly is quietly devastating in a scene where Emma is the victim of a cruel stratagem.


Emma’s wish to take her girlfriend, Alyssa Greene (Abriel Coleman), to the prom is being squelched by local reactionaries, who have canceled the event rather than allow a same-sex couple to attend. “This is our chance to save the world, one lesbian at a time!” exclaims Barry. Spearheading the anti-gay forces is the head of the PTA (Amy Barker), who happens to be Alyssa’s mother. Alyssa has not yet come out as gay; the prom was going to be where she and Emma made their relationship public.

Abriel Coleman (left) and Liesie Kelly in "The Prom" at SpeakEasy Stage Company.Nile Scott Studios

Accompanied by publicist Sheldon Saperstein (Meagan Lewis-Michelson), the actors set out to right the wrongs Emma and Alyssa are being subjected to, while also, not so incidentally, drum up some publicity for themselves. Once they arrive in Indiana, they find an ally in Mr. Hawkins (Anthony Pires Jr.), the school principal. Dee Dee also finds a fan in Hawkins, and perhaps a romantic partner as well.

The ensemble brings both vigor and skill to Gamble’s dynamic, pull-out-the-stops choreography, part of what makes “The Prom” such an eye-catching romp. But “The Prom” — whose book is by Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin, with lyrics by Beguelin and music by Matthew Sklar — is not without flaws. The Act Two opener, “Zazz,” a you-go-girl duet between Emma and Angie, aims for showbiz anthem territory but comes across as a generic throwaway number.


In terms of the SpeakEasy production, the band — located within an enclosure next to the stage — played well but drowned out the singers at a few points in Wednesday night’s performance. Even though Callanan has a powerful voice, the best line in her big number, “It’s Not About Me,” didn’t land because it was submerged in sound.

But that’s one of the perils of live performance, and it’s a risk worth taking. On balance, it’s a pleasure to see “The Prom” back onstage, where it belongs.


Book and lyrics by Chad Beguelin. Book by Bob Martin. Music by Matthew Sklar. Directed by Paul Daigneault. Choreography by Taavon Gamble. Music direction by Paul S. Katz. Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company. At Roberts Studio Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts. Through June 10. Tickets start at $25. 617-933-8600,

Don Aucoin can be reached at Follow him @GlobeAucoin.