Gay Atlanta’s inner child gets a do-over as Alliance previews a Broadway-bound show about taking a same-sex date to high school’s biggest night.

By Jeffery Silvey

In high school everyone looks forward to prom. All the pomp and circumstance is a symbol of the American teenage experience, but one until recently exclusive to heterosexuals. That’s where we enter The Prom, the new Broadway-bound musical staging at Alliance Theatre this month.

How does a gay youth experience that vital American childhood phenomenon of prom with all its privileges and perks? The musical asks that question to tell the story of Emma, a teenager growing up in conservative Indiana who wants nothing more than to go to the prom with her girlfriend.

Disapproving of her choice but unwilling to seem discriminatory, her school decides to cancel the prom for everyone. What ensues is an ample amount of press coverage and even more hilarious antics as four Broadway stars of yesteryear show up to save the day, as well as save the dance.

The Prom becomes Broadway versus Board of Education, proving that all it takes is one person to stand up and speak out to spark a change.

After hosting the world premieres of Broadway-bound musicals including The Color Purple and Aida, the Alliance hosts the show by director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw, who won a Tony for The Book of Mormon. The show is based on an original idea by producer Jack Viertel, written by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin. Beguelin is also responsible for the lyrics, and Matthew Sklar the music.

The Prom stage is loaded with Tony Award winners and nominees as well as Broadway stage veterans, including lead Caitlin Kinnunen. Originally from a small town between Seattle and the Canadian border in Washington State, Kinnunen moved to New York City at 16 when she was cast in the Broadway musical Spring Awakening. Now 24, she is excited to be a part of the show, and the larger conversation it sparks.

“It’s important to be who you are,” Kinnunen says of the show’s theme. “Love who you love and embrace that. Do not be afraid to show the world who you love and stand up for yourself.”

The show feels like a true story, but it’s more amalgamation of various headlines born out of real-life discrimination. In 2010, a gay teen in Cochran, Georgia was told he wasn’t allowed to bring a boy to the prom. The same year, a school in Mississippi canceled the prom to prevent a lesbian student from attending with her girlfriend. Earlier this year, a lesbian student was banned from her prom because she wanted to wear a tuxedo.

The gay discrimination in heteronormative proms has become too common. In addition to the show itself, the Alliance, a longtime LGBT supporter, seeks to further address the issues. Back in July, they held a Q&A “Behind the Musical” with the show principles, and even threw a “Gay Prom” honoring all the people who didn’t get one in high school, who didn’t get to go with the date of their choice, or those who simply wish for a “do-over.”

The cast and crew commitment to making things better is just one of the many reasons that Kinnunen is excited for the show.

“I never went to high school,” the actress says. “I was homeschooled, so I never got to go to a prom, so I finally get to do that.”

The larger conversation that The Prom presents attempts to bring all the giddy memories and experiences of the big event to every American teenager, regardless of who they want to take as their date, what they want to wear, or how they want to express their gender identity.

Want to go?
What: The Prom
Where: Alliance Theatre @ Woodruff Center, 1280 Peachtree St. NE
When: August 18 – September 25