The Prom Delivers Acceptance, Love, and Dancing

Prom is a staple of high school coming-of-age stories, whether it’s overblown or not: see the grip that Pretty in PinkTen Things I Hate About You, or Carrie continue to have on our culture. The Prom, now playing at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres through June 10, is no different, but in this case, the story is about the right to go at all.

The heart of the musical centers on one girl, Emma, who wants to go to prom with her date. The problem is that her date is also a girl, and the parent-teacher association of Edgewater, Indiana, has decided to cancel the whole event because of it. After finding out about this injustice through Twitter, four unemployed Broadway actors looking to champion a cause—and more importantly, the good press that comes with it—travel to the Midwest to bring the issue to center stage.

This is the newest mainstage show the theater has done since 2010 with All Shook Up, and it aligns with the diversity, equity, and inclusion work it began in 2021. Monty Hays, who plays Emma, continues this stage refresh with a Chanhassen Dinner Theatres debut that evokes the same youthfulness, earnestness, and vulnerability found in the best Dear Evan Hansen moments. In comparison, the adults are written with personalities that undercut any of the show’s Gen-Z edginess, but actors Helen Anker, Jodi Carmeli, Shad Hanley, Tod Petersen, and JoeNathan Thomas make sure to highlight the best parts, from crystal clear notes to honest conversations that dig past the show’s veneer. The rest of the cast performances, including a sincere solo by Maya Richardson, who plays Emma’s love interest, knits everything together into one polished evening led by artistic director Michael Brindisi’s vision.

The set by resident scenic designer Nayna Ramey is festive during the pre-show dinner, with a marvelous cherry blossom tree in front of an iridescent, pink-toned cityscape, but Ramey soon takes the audience to a high school depicted with crisply painted purple and yellow lockers. The backdrop behind this, however, is a dark purple scene of two planetary bodies with a bright light bursting on the horizon.

At first it feels a bit out of place (perhaps a nod to the galaxy fashion trend that hit its peak in the 2010s?), but then you see Emma and Alyssa singing, “I just wanna dance with you” to each other. Suddenly, the art emphasizes that, while these two people just want to be in their own world together, their actions now stand for something so much bigger than themselves.

As the audience settles into the plot, one of the obvious parallels is Footloose, which was based on the events that took place in Oklahoma in 1979. In the same way, The Prom was inspired by events that took place in Mississippi in 2010. Unlike the true events behind Footloose, though, The Prom‘s neatly bow-tied ending isn’t fully reflected in the real world. LGBT rights are still under attack. As a recent example, on Feb. 13, South Dakota governor Kristi Noem signed HB 1080 into law, banning healthcare providers from prescribing or administering to youth puberty-blocking medication, sex hormones, and surgeries related to gender transition starting July 1.

This separation isn’t necessarily a slam on The Prom. It’s okay—it’s important—to be able to escape with a fun night that pops with upbeat dance breaks by choreographer Tamara Kangas Erickson, eye-rolling jokes, and happy endings. As one character says, “An escape helps you heal.” Just don’t forget that this fight is still happening in a million different ways.

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