What do you do when you’re a completely self-obsessed Broadway actor who’s down on his or her luck? Well, you find a way to help others, of course.
For seasoned troupers Dee Dee Allen, Barry Glickman and life-long chorus girl Angie Dickinson, it was an easy choice to make. When their current Broadway musical tanked and closed after a single performance, it took just one evening of wallowing in booze and self-pity to figure out how to bounce back.
That and a small Twitter trend.
They discover that there’s a poor, neglected teen lesbian named Emma somewhere out in boondocks Indiana who desperately needs their help. Her local prom was canceled because her school district’s socially backward PTA members refused to allow her to bring another girl as a date. That should not be allowed to stand!
Besides, if they become celebrity activists, they reason, and they spend a weekend or so out there in the fly-over wastelands, their names will surely be bouncing around Twitter like a ping-pong ball in a cocktail blender. Dee Dee quietly reasons it might even help her pick up her third Tony.
Julliard-educated actor/bartender Trent Oliver volunteers to help their little project as well. He’s booked for a nonequity tour of Godspell that’s headed right through that area. The down-and-out actors can simply hitch a ride on the cast bus. It’ll all be painless and cost-free. (The fact that it’s all narcissistically self-serving … need not be discussed.)
The point is, they can throw their star power around and make a difference in a community filled with obvious bigots and homophobes. That’s all that matters. And if they have to grit their teeth and stay in a hotel with fewer than four stars, well, that’s just the kind of back-breaking sacrifice a truly caring person makes.
Hopefully they can at least book separate suites.
The actor activists here are all completely self-focused. But, bit by bit, they each come to see themselves a little more clearly because of their contact with Emma, school Principal Tom Hawkins and a few other caring people in the small town of Edgewater, Indiana.
And in spite of the fact that they (and this musical in general) tend to label most everyone in Edgewater as a hateful homophobe, we do see a few instances where a parent embraces their loved one and expresses their love as being foremost when a child admits to being gay.
Principal Hawkins encourages Dee Dee to be a better person, explaining that to be a good person you must “put other people’s interests before your own.” It’s a foreign concept that Dee Dee tries to apply.
Trent Chase faces down a group of local kids in a mall food court and asks them about their beliefs. They all say they go to church and that they’re Christians. He then sets about singing a song that (falsely) lists all the ways the Bible says they’ll be “sent to hell” for their wrongdoing. (He states, for example, that the Bible says divorce equals a death sentence for one girl’s mom and that scripture states your hands must be lopped off if you masturbate.) He then suggests that Jesus’ commandment to “Love Thy Neighbor” is the equivalent of accepting whatever sin someone else commits.
On the Godspell tour bus, Barry yells at the cast to stop practicing. “You’re making me hate God,” he screams. Alyssa sings about her Mom trying to shape her into a perfect daughter, including the fact that she would go to “Bible camp each summer to keep you pure and clean.”
Many of the musical numbers here focus on the central theme of gay acceptance. Early on, Dee Dee, Barry, Angie and Trent all belt out their declaration that “This is our chance to change the world, one lesbian at a time!”
And they also make it clear what they think of average middle-American people out there: “Those fist-pumping, Bible-thumping, Spam-eating, cousin-loving, finger-wagging, Hoosier-humping losers and their ugly wives, will learn compassion, and better fashion, once we at last are changing lives.”
In the course of the story, Barry sings about his struggles as a gay young man. Emma sings a warning that lists all of the reasons kids shouldn’t be “Gay in Indiana.” She also sings a song about her feelings as a gay teen, which subsequently spreads virally online. She stages a local “inclusive” prom and hundreds of gay and trans kids flood in from around the state. Dee Dee sings a ballad to the “bigoted monsters” of the town.
Later Dee Dee finds out that Principal Hawkins is a big fan. “Straight people like Broadway, too,” he tells her. “I’ve heard that. Always thought it was a fairy tale,” she replies. The actors also mistake a Big Boy restaurant as a gay bar. Trent mentions being approached in a men’s bathroom by Maggie Smith.
We see a teen in her underwear getting a spray-tan. A cheerleader looks at her own pretty reflection and states, “Even I would do me!” Emma’s girlfriend Alyssa finally comes out to her mom. Emma and Alyssa kiss. And Dee Dee and Principal Hawkins kiss, too.
A couple of s-words are accompanied by multiple uses of “a–,” “b–ch,” “h—” and “d–mit.” “P-ss me off” is spit out once or twice. Jesus’ name is misused once, and God’s is misused some 10 times.
Dee Dee, Barry, Angie and Trent drink wine and cocktails of all sorts throughout the film. Barry sucks straight from a bottle at one point. Dee Dee and Principal Hawkins eat dinner together and drink beer and a margarita. Angie sings about staying in the acting game while trying to keep her “day-drinking” under control.
Angie gives Barry a pill from a sandwich bag full of mixed drugs she keeps.
It eventually comes out that the actors swept into town in hopes of revitalizing their careers, not out of concern for Emma.
In a season filled with new movies celebrating gay identity and acceptance, The Prom is the tiara-wearing Queen of the Ball.
The Prom is based on a Broadway hit about a lesbian teen who’s unfairly shamed, crudely labeled and ostracized, before a gaggle of celebrity activists swarm into her small town to give her aid. And this movie version is packed with well-versed star-power, great voices, catchy tunes and dynamic production numbers.
As a musical, it’s an engaging romp that satisfies on almost all fronts … except one.
Like a lot of message movies, this Ryan Murphy-directed story only sings in one Glee-ful key, and its rushing Riverdance of acceptance, inclusion and celebration only marches in a single line toward stage left.
Viewers who might see things a bit differently, those who might have a slightly different perspective than this pic’s rainbow flag-waving agenda allows, will find themselves far less warmly embraced. In fact, they’ll likely feel unfairly shamed, crudely labeled and ostracized themselves.
Isn’t it interesting how things can turn out that way?
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.