Kennedy Center invites you to ‘The Prom’

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'The Prom' at Kennedy Center (Part 1)

It was a 2018 Broadway musical that became a star-studded Netflix movie in 2020. Now, you can watch “The Prom” on stage at the Kennedy Center through Jan. 16.

“It has a very deep message, but it is so much fun,” actress Courtney Balan told WTOP. “I don’t know how to use words to explain the joy of what the audiences and the actors feel collectively. … I hope people feel safe to come support us and wear their masks, because it’s really important that these stories get to be told and that theater survives through this.”

Written by Bob Martin (book), Chad Beguelin (book and lyrics) and Matthew Sklar (music), the inspiring story follows four Broadway actors lamenting their life as thespians.

“We start at the opening night party of a Broadway show that stars my character, Dee Dee, and her best friend, Barry,” Balan said. “We get some bad news, it is not well received, and they start doing some self-reflection about what they’re doing with their lives. They decide they need a cause célèbre to reinvigorate their lives. They feel lost and need good press.”

So, the quartet of Broadway pals travel to the small town of Edgewater, Indiana, to help a lesbian student who is banned from bringing her girlfriend to high school prom.

“The PTA went crazy and canceled the prom,” Balan said. “She puts it out on Twitter, they find out about it and they decide that’s their cause. They’re going to go to Indiana and save the day. … That’s kind of the gist of where we first get started, then shenanigans ensue.”

Balan starred in the original Broadway show, which was nominated for six Tony Awards.

“In 2016, I was in the audience of one of the workshops and I remember vividly watching it and sobbing my face off at the end,” Balan said. “When the audition came … one role was open. That role was to be in the adult ensemble [and] to understudy the role that I currently play. I was so excited because I love the show so much. I went in and got the job.”

What did she think of the movie adaptation by director Ryan Murphy?

“I’m thrilled that Ryan Murphy saw something in that show,” Balan said. “That was him. He grew up in rural Indiana and wasn’t able to go with his boyfriend to the high school prom. … It was really overwhelming to sit there and say, ‘There’s Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and James Corden saying these words that I know so well.'”

All of the different iterations feature the same great songs.

“‘Build a Prom’ is the one everyone recognizes,” Balan said. “‘Dance with You’ is a real anthem for any young woman who just wants to be themselves and love who they love. I get to sing two amazing songs, ‘It’s Not About Me’ and ‘The Lady’s Improving.’ …  It’s like one hit thrill after another.”

It’s all brought to life visually by director Casey Nicholaw.

“We have these two worlds that collide: this New York Broadway world and then we have Indiana,” Balan said. “It’s cool to see the two meld together every night. … When we actually get to the big celebration at the prom itself, it’s just unbelievable beauty — all of the bright colors, disco balls, the sets, the costumes, it’s a true joyful experience.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'The Prom' at Kennedy Center (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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