Everyone, come to Slow Burn’s The Prom

Margot Moreland, left, Michael Hunsaker, Shannon Mullen, Henry Gainza and Regina Brown, right, in Slow Burn’s The Prom. Photo by Larry Marano

By Oline H.  Cogdill

The Prom is for everyone — straight couples, same-sex couples, those attending in a group, those attending solo or with just a friend or two are all welcomed — as Slow Burn Theatre Company’s joyful, often poignant production proves. The Prom runs through April 7 in the Amaturo Theater at the, Broward Center.

Regina Brown, left, and Sarah Lash in Slow Burn’s The Prom. Photo by Larry Marano

In The Prom, Slow Burn co-founder Patrick Fitzwater’s crisp direction combined with Reynel Reynaldo’s exuberant choreography extracts every ounce of humor —  and it is a funny script— and compassion in a musical that touches on homophobia, the cult of the celebrity, parenting issues, fear, teenage angst, empathy and the need for theater educators.

The Prom revolves around likable teenager Emma Nolan, whose request to bring her girlfriend to the senior prom ignites her small Indiana town. Mrs. Greene, the PTA head, and some of the parents are outraged. They insist they are not homophobic — yeah, don’t believe that — but instead cancel the prom rather than deal with one student’s request. Emma has an ally in the principal, Mr. Hawkins, who believes it’s a civil rights issue and begins to seek help from the state.

Michael Hunsaker, left, Margot Moreland, Henry Gainza and Shannon Mullen in Slow Burn’s The Prom. Photo by Larry Marano

While Emma is at the heart of  The Prom,  the action actually begins in New York when award-winning actors Barry Glickman and Dee Dee Allen have just had their latest Broadway extravaganza close on opening night. Oh, those nasty critics who lambasted Eleanor! (The Eleanor Roosevelt Musical). Somehow, that idea just didn’t work.

Regina Brown, left, and Chaz Rose in Slow Burn’s The Prom. Photo by Larry Marano

Commiserating, the two are joined by Angie Dickinson, whose been in the chorus of Chicago for more than 20 years but never got to play Roxie Hart. The trio becomes a quartet with actor Trent Oliver who had a hit TV series back in the ‘80s and is now a waiter. Almost as bad as having a show close, they are accused of being past their prime and too irrelevant. They also are accused of being too self-absorbed. Ya, think — Dee Dee carries her Tony Awards in her purse.

To bring good attention to themselves and show they are caring people, these divas seek a cause that will put them in the best spotlight possible.

Michael Hunsaker, left, Shannon Mullen, Henry Gainza, behind sofa, Darius J. Manuel and Margot Moreland, right, in Slow Burn’s The Prom. Photo by Larry Marano

BARRY: Well, we have to show the world that we’re not that.
DEE DEE: What, aging?
BARRY: No, narcissists! People who are in love with themselves.
DEE DEE: I still don’t understand what’s wrong with that.
BARRY: Wait a minute. I know how we can still love ourselves, but appear to be decent human beings. We’ll become celebrity activists!

They stumble on Emma’s situation and shuffle off to Indiana to plan a protest and a rally without any idea of what they are doing or if they truly are helping Emma.

Fitzwater has assembled a tight cast who take much delight in their roles.

Regina Brown, left, and Henry Gainza in Slow Burn’s The Prom. Photo by Larry Marano

It’s good to have the multi-talented Margot Moreland back on stage after a couple of years’ absence. As Dee Dee, Moreland is the epitome of a diva who learns to be a bit more gracious to others. Moreland nails every song. Dee Dee may be insufferable, but Moreland’s winning personality makes the audience care about her character.

The Prom also marks Henry Gainza’s return to South Florida theater after a few years performing in several Broadway shows. Gainza is appropriately over the top as Barry Glickman who finds Emma’s situation parallels his own as a teenager. His energy is wonderfully boundless.

Regina Brown, left, and Sarah Lash in Slow Burn’s The Prom. Photo by Larry Marano

Regina Brown is as likable as her character Emma Nolan whose parents kicked her out when she told them she was a lesbian and who must keep secret the relationship with her girlfriend. Brown depicts with finesse this heavy load that Emma deals with while keeping herself well grounded. Brown shows her strength as a singer in her solos “Just Breath,” her heart-breaking duet with Alyssa (the lovely-voiced Sarah Lash) and especially the emotional “Unruly Heart.”

Margot Moreland and Chaz Rose in Slow Burn’s The Prom. Photo by Larry Marano

Lash shines in her angst-ridden song “Alyssa Greene,” about the pressure her controlling mother puts on her. Alyssa believes her mother wants her to be perfect so maybe her husband will return.

Michael Hunsaker is a scene stealer as the blowhard Trent Oliver, whose bout with fame and his Julliard education rule his life. “Love Thy Neighbor” brings home the theme of acceptance in The Prom and the need for a drama teacher at the high school.

The company of Slow Burn’s The Prom. Photo by Larry Marano

Shannon Mullen is an arresting Angie, especially in the song “Zazz” and her high, high, high kicks.

A superb Chaz Rose, recently the mobster in Slow Burn’s Sister Act, has undeniable chemistry with Moreland. His “We Look to You” is a paean to why theater is more than entertainment. Shelley Keelor’s Mrs. Greene is the villain of The Prom with her staunch stand against a same-sex couple yet this actress also shows the fears her character feels about being a single mother. Darius J. Manuel, who was a bumbling crook in Slow Burn’s Sister Act, shows his bright comic chops as p.r. expert Sheldon Saperstein.

“Slow Burn” has a tradition of identifying young talent who grow with each role, often starting out in ensemble roles. The high-energy dancing scenes show pure happiness with much praise going to the young ensemble, choreographer Reynaldo and dance captain Emily Tarallo.

Regina Brown, left, and Sarah Lash in Slow Burn’s The Prom. Photo by Larry Marano

As usual, Rick Pena’s costumes are on point with Timothy S. Dickey’s scenic design, Clifford Spulock’s lighting and Dan Donato’s sound enhancing The Prom.

Many cheers to Slow Burn for including a live band under the expertise of music director Ryan Crout. If only more theaters had the wisdom to hire live musicians instead of taped.

The catchy score by Matthew Sklar (Elf and The Wedding Singer) and Chad Beguelin (Elf and Aladdin) veers from the humorous with myriad referencing other musicals, to the touching and the emotional wrenching. The score allows for the various characters to shine in their own solos, often accompanied by ensemble members as background singers.

The company of Slow Burn’s The Prom. Photo by Larry Marano

The Prom debuted on Broadway in 2018, and was nominated for several Tony awards including best musical, eventually winning the Drama Desk Award for best musical. Having seen The Prom in its terrific Broadway production and rather average tour, we can safely say Slow Burn’s version sparkles.

The Prom presented by Slow Burn Theatre Company runs through April 7 at the Amaturo Theater, Broward Center For The Performing Arts, 201 SW 5th Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 1 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.  Running time about two hours, 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets start at $54. Call (954) 462-0222 for tickets, at www.browardcenter.org or in person at  the Broward Center’s Auto Nation Box Office. Visit www.slowburntheatre.org for more information.

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