“The Prom” is silly, lively fun — and gay, gay, gay!

The cast of 'The Prom' on stage with rainbow flags
'The Prom' at Axelrod PAC. Photo by John Posada.

The Prom is outlandish and flashy

Two cast members on stage of 'The Prom'
‘The Prom’ at Axelrod PAC. Photo by John Posada.

The Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal, under the guidance of Artistic Director Andrew DePrisco, has for the past decade mounted successful seasons of ambitious, professionally produced musicals. Their latest offering is The Prom, a dizzy delight written by Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin, with lyrics by Beguelin and music by Matthew Sklar. It’s a show with a heart that manages to skewer celebrity charities, self-righteous small town folk, and teen angst. And it’s more gay than a roomful of rainbows! How can you resist?

At an opening night party for a flop musical, stars Dee Dee Allen (Vicki Lewis) and Barry Glickman (John Scherer) are commiserating over their bad reviews with press agent Sheldon Saperstein (Matt Walsh), actor/waiter Trent Oliver (Matt Hill), and perennial understudy Angie Dickinson (Emily McNamara). Scanning the Internet, Angie finds a trending story from Edgewater, Indiana: the town’s PTA has canceled the senior prom because one student wants to bring her girlfriend as her date. Dee Dee and Barry jump on it as a way to improve their image without having to do too much work, and soon the five are on a bus to the small town.

Emma Nolan (Lillian Belle Doll), the student in question, is being blamed by her classmates for the prom’s cancellation. Principal Tom Hawkins (Richard E. Waits) gets the state to intervene, ordering the town to hold an inclusive prom, much to the anger of the PTA and its president, Mrs. Greene (Nikki Yarnell).

The PTA comes up with a solution:  they will hold two proms on the same night, one just for Emma and one to which everyone else is invited. Mrs. Greene’s daughter, Alyssa (Emily Pellecchia), Emma’s prom date, is not let in on the plan until her mother brings her to the alternate prom site.

A cast member of 'The Prom' sitting on a bed with his right arm in the air.
‘The Prom’ at Axelrod PAC. Photo by John Posada.

While the cast members are perfect clowns in the publicity circus, especially Broadway veterans Lewis and Scherer, it is Lillian Belle Doll that steals the show. Her Emma is a pitch-perfect portrayal of a high schooler coming to terms with her budding sexuality, finding someone who returns her affections, feeling betrayed at the “two proms” plan, and finally realizing her own power. Her duets with Pellecchia’s Alyssa, “Dance With You” and “You Happened”, are joyous expressions of young love, while her solo “Unruly Heart” is a moving expression of self-acceptance.

Other musical highlights are Waits’ solo “We Look to You”, where the star-struck principal tells Dee Dee why celebrity is important to people like him; McNamara’s “Zazz”, a song of encouragement for the downhearted Emma; and Hill’s “Love Thy Neighbor”, a rousing gospel-flavored tune about truly living one’s religious beliefs.

Director Todd Buonopane and choreographer Brooke Engen put the cast through their paces with unflagging energy from the start of the show all the way through to the finale. Scenic designer Fred Sorrentino proves himself equal to the task of creating everything from a small-town high school gym to a fancy theatrical restaurant, while costume designer Miranda Graves comes up with outfits that are an explosion of glittery fabrics and more spangles than you can shake a stick at. And the 11-piece offstage orchestra is nimbly conducted by Michael Gilch, setting the right musical mood for each number.

The Prom is outlandish and flashy, its script exploiting every cliche about gays, theatre people, small town dwellers, parent-child relationships, image versus reality, and high school social life — and managing to make it all an enjoyably silly romp. Axelrod Performing Arts Center has come up with a winner, and if you’re looking for some comic escape, this is the show for you. I recommend you attend The Prom!

Come celebrate LGBTQ PRIDE NIGHT on Friday, May 12, 2023 with a 6:30 PM reception and 7:30PM performance. Use checkout code “PRIDE23” and save $23 per ticket.

The Prom is presented at the Vogel Auditorium of the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal Park through May 21, 2023.  For more information, or to purchase tickets, call 732-531-9106, extension 14, or go to axelrodartscenter.com.