THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
Midland Center Presents Regional Premier of Contemporary Hit Musical August 2-4 & 9-11th
30th July, 2023 0
One of the most eagerly anticipated debuts of the summer in the world of regional theatre is the premier of the hit musical comedy, The PROM, which is set to dazzle outdoor audiences at Midland Center for the Arts with a series of performances running this week from Wednesday through Friday, August 2-4th and continuing next week from August 9-11th.
This high-energy and timely musical production debuted on Broadway in 2018 and was later adapted into a hit film on Netflix starring Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Ariana DeBose, and James Cordon, and audiences will now have a unique opportunity to experience this hilarious tour-d’-force for the first time in its regional premier on the Center’s Outdoor Stage.
Directed by Bill Anderson, Jr., with choreography by Gina Kearly and music direction by Matthew Conley, the setting for The PROM is Edgewater, Indiana, and centers around a troupe of hilariously self-obsessed theater stars who swarm into a small conservative Indiana town in support of a high-school girl, Emma, who wants to take her girlfriend to the senior prom, but is told she will not be allowed to do so. While the production dazzles the senses with glittery costumes, energetic dance numbers and beltable songs, the core of its message is rooted in the need for inclusivity.
Fashioned around the heartwarming humor of a classic musical comedy while delivering a potent contemporary message, the narrative for The PROM is actually based around a true incident that took place in 2010, when the Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Miss., refused to let high school senior Constance McMillen and her girlfriend attend the senior prom as a couple. McMillen was also told she could not wear a tuxedo to the event—and that only male students were permitted to do so.
When McMillen fought back and got the American Civil Liberties Union involved, the school board decided to cancel the prom altogether. In response, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the school district. “All I wanted was the same chance to enjoy my prom night like any other student,” McMillen said in an ACLU press statement.
“But my school would rather hurt all the students than treat everyone fairly.”
As the director for The PROM, Bill Anderson has been an avid community theatre volunteer for 30 years, and his list of directing credits include titles such as Kinky Boots, Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, Avenue Q, Annie, Ragtime, Shrek, The 39 Steps & a production of Urinetown that placed 2nd at the 2011 National AACT Fest.
According to Anderson, “There is something for everyone to connect to in this powerful, fun story of love and acceptance. This is actually a Golden Age musical in the sense the musical numbers are designed to be reminiscent of other beloved musical stylings by composers such as Kander & Ebb (Cabaret), Steven Swartz (Godspell) and Stephen Sondheim, but the story is current and relevant, especially considering how this year 500 bills of anti-LGBTQ legislation have been introduced across the country, so the narrative of this play also frames a timely discussion.”
“What I love about The PROM is that it’s essentially a comedy, so while it might handle some serious themes, it does so in a way that makes it approachable to an audience, especially an audience like Midland,” he continues. “The small town it takes place at in Indiana could easily be Midland. I was bullied at school for being gay and pushed into the closet for almost 30 years, so the themes of representation and of truly seeing ourselves in the story we’re watching is important.”
“Whether you’re queer or whether you’re a character like Mrs. Greene, who’s not really a villain or a monster but an ‘Every Mom’ in the sense that having never had to face these themes or challenges she doesn’t understand, her response to it all is, ‘I just don’t want you to have a hard life’, which is a sentiment I’ve heard from the lips of every parent with a kid that has come out of the closet,” reflects Bill.
“So for me the significance of this production is that it’s all about the importance of inclusivity, love, and people accepting people for who they are and where they are. The themes of representation are structured to ensure everyone in the audience gets something out of this play; and its approachable, so even if we evaluate and ask a couple questions like the character Mrs. Greene does, the show will have done its job.”
When asked the most challenging component of bringing this production together for its regional premier, Anderson points to the rigors of performing it upon an outdoor stage. “Being outside we don’t know what the weather is going to do, so we have to let go and be prepared to let whatever happens happen. The focus is on the story telling and the comedy and the mechanics of staging the piece. Even if we performed it in jeans and a t-shirt, the goal is to serve the story well and deliver it to the audience in a way that is approachable.”
“That being said, while it may look easy, it’s not an easy production because it has a lot of big dance numbers and a smaller cast of only 18 people, so we have a small ensemble telling the story,” he continues. "Being outside and having limited space, we try and use vertical space to look less crowded, but being outdoors in an open space and with daylight the audience gets to also see a lot of the inner workings of the production, if they’re interested in that stuff. They can see cast members preparing for the next scene and how our amazing crew streamlines the technical process to smoothly get things done.”
With a cast that consists of Olivia Greanias in the lead role of Emma Nolan, Lexie Schultz as Alyssa Greene, Chad William Baker as Barry Glickman, Ann Russell-Lutenske as Dee Dee Allen, along with Jared Kaufman, Brock Ritter, Spencer Beyerlein, Ed Mata as Principle Hawkins, Sarah Smith, Ava Mata, Myah Shelton, Lliam Hamilton-Kraft, Jamie Miller, Callie Smith, Faith Dore, Ginny Thomasson, Rachel Rassette and Zoe Whitlock, Anderson says he was pleased with the audition process and that the cast is blended with a nice mix of veterans and newcomers.
“To me it was important to cast this production with the right intent of the character,” he reflects. “So casting queer people in queer roles was important, as was casting people of color, especially for the role of the school Principal Hawkins. We didn’t have anyone audition that truly fit that role, so I held off on casting it because the school principal is one of the only people in town showing Emma any love or support and it’s a person of color, so to me that’s important.”
“I also need to commend our musical director, Matt Conley, who pulled together a great musical ensemble and is only 19-years old,” notes Anderson. “He absolutely killed the job and vocally the production is strong while musically it’s thrilling. He’s done an amazing job.”
Additionally, Midland Center is partnering with local LGBTQ+ organizations in promotion for The PROM. On opening night, August 2, members from PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gay Youth) will have an information table available; and then on Thursday, August 3, the Center’s Pendulum Lounge will be hosted by Great Lakes Bay Pride for ‘GLB Pride Night’ beginning at 4:30 PM. That night, the Harmony Diversity Choir will provide a pre-show performance.
Tickets are available online at www.midlandcenter.org, by calling (989) 631-8250, or by visiting the box office at 1801 W. St. Andrews Rd., Midland.
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)