‘The Prom’ Tackles Issues That Matter


Margaret Szpakowski, Editor in Chief

The musical “The Prom” premiered off-Broadway in 2016 and then hit Broadway in 2018. Now, the Tony-nominated popular musical is available as a book, audiobook, and Netflix movie (trailer above). I have not seen the musical, but over February break, I listened to the audiobook and watched the movie.

The premise of both adaptations is this: lesbian teens Emma (out) and Alyssa (closeted) want to attend their school’s prom together, but it only allows opposite-sex couples, and Alyssa’s mom is leading the campaign to make sure that doesn’t change. When unpopular Broadway stars Barry Glickman and Dee Dee Allen hear of this, they decide to get involved in order to reverse their recent negative publicity from a failed show.

The audiobook (written by Saundra Mitchell) alternates between Emma and Alyssa’s perspective and focuses on their story, simplifying the storyline involving the Broadway actors, as well as remove most of the music. In its focus, it’s able to delve into important issues surrounding today’s LBGTQ+ teens, such as coming out, dating in the closet, and religion. Alyssa’s relationship with her mom and Emma’s relationship with her grandmother are main focuses of this version, and their contrasts are very clear. Where Emma’s Nan campaigns for Emma and works very hard to protect her, Alyssa’s mom is unknowingly working against Alyssa’s interests as Alyssa tries to protect her from the reality that her ex-husband, Alyssa’s father, is never coming back. One drawback of listening was that at times it was hard to hear the difference between character’s internal thoughts and dialogue. However, that complaint mattered little in the face of such a powerful story. The dual perspectives allowed me to understand where both girls were coming from instead of taking a side. That broader view was essential to the story: truly, this is one of the best uses of alternating first person perspective I’ve seen because the girls are so similar and yet different.

The movie takes a wider view, devoting roughly equal screen time to the adults and teens, with the notable exception of Nan, who is barely present. Because of the multiple plotlines, the movie was harder to follow. I had to give some mild spoilers to the person I was watching with (who had not listened to the audiobook) so that she could follow the plot. For that reason, I would recommend the book or audiobook first. Still, the movie version added a lot to the story, including several iconic songs. It also offers an interesting glimpse into Broadway life.

Ultimately, the two versions of “The Prom” that I experienced were complementary. Each had strengths and weaker parts, but together, they showed a more complete picture. I hope to one day see the musical on or off Broadway and get the full experience, and I would recommend any version you can find of this empowering story to you readers.