What happens when oblivious, self-involved Broadway stars descend upon a small town to make a different? Musical comedy heaven for fans of both contemporary scores and classic, belty, 11 o'clock numbers, as The Prom proves. With the cast album now available to stream and purchase, Playbill asked composers Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin to walk readers and listeners through the score track by track, as Broadway divas Dee Dee (Beth Leavel), Barry (Brooks Ashmanskas), and Trent (Christopher Sieber) travel to Indiana to convince the PTA to let Emma (Caitlin Kinnunen) attend the prom with her girlfriend (Isabella McCalla).
A very early version of the show started with Dee Dee, Barry and Trent staring in three separate musicals. (Dee Dee was in Goonies – The Musical, Barry was in Forrest Gump – The Musical, and Trent was in A Long Day’s Journey Into Night – The Musical.) However the story was taking too long to get off the ground, so we put Barry and Dee Dee in the same show and demoted Trent to a cater waiter. We tried to capture the energy and excitement of an opening night and combine that with the self-importance our Broadway actors carry with them at all times. Hence, “Changing Lives.”
“CHANGING LIVES (REPRISE)”
We’ve had the lyric, “We’re gonna help that little lesbian, whether she likes it or not!” in the show from almost the very beginning. It highlights exactly how self-involved our Broadway actors are. And, of course, they sing about teaching other people to be more politically correct, then launch into horribly politically incorrect name-calling.
Our hope here was to get the audience on Emma’s side by showing the misery that she’s going through with as much grace as she can muster. The goal was to show her coping mechanism and reveal how she retreats into herself when things turn unpleasant. This is contrasted later in the show, when she finally finds the courage to tell her story.
“IT’S NOT ABOUT ME”
This song was originally called “This Poor Girl,” and it was a much harsher version of Dee Dee. It made her character extremely unlikeable, so we decided to soften her take on the whole situation. We tried to find comedy in how passionate and yet how completely uninformed Dee Dee is.
“DANCE WITH YOU”
Chad: I wrote the lyrics for this song when I was on a trip to Paris and extremely jet lagged. I was just thinking about how such a small thing could erupt into such a huge controversy and the words just started pouring out of me. I emailed it to Matt, who set the lyric verbatim, even though it was a first draft.
Matt: I remember opening the e-mail, reading these beautiful lyrics, and tearing up. It was emotional and simple. And it really summed up the entire point of the show. I ran to the piano and started writing—it just felt right.
“THE ACCEPTANCE SONG”
This was a tricky assignment. The idea would be that Trent would have written this as an anthem for the rally and that it would be spectacularly bad. But we didn’t want to punish the real audience with a dud. So we tried to find humor in Trent’s horrible lyrics and everyone’s self-importance.
This was one of the first songs we wrote for the musical. It was originally just a song between Emma and Alyssa. However, our producers stumbled on the phenomenon of “promposals.” We decided to show two straight “promposals” out in the open, then have the two girls have to hide for theirs.
“WE LOOK TO YOU”
This song was written after our out-of-town tryout in Atlanta. We wanted a tender moment between Tom Hawkins and Dee Dee. Underneath all of Dee Dee’s bluster, Tom realizes she does have some self-doubt. We wanted to explain why he was such a super fan of musicals and of her. It’s a moment where the two characters truly bond.
“TONIGHT BELONGS TO YOU”
This song [the Act I finale] had to do a lot of heavy lifting for several different characters. We wanted to show Barry giving Emma confidence and teaching her to “own it.” But we also wanted to show the opposing viewpoints of the other students. And, of course, Mrs. Greene has a presence and hints that she might have fixed “a little problem.” It begs the question, “Who does prom night really belong to?” At this moment in the show, that is a point of major contention.
Since Angie’s character has been in the musical Chicago for 20 years, it seemed only logical that her musical vernacular would be very Kander and Ebb. It also seemed to make sense that Angie would help Emma find strength through dance for the Act II opening number.
“THE LADY’S IMPROVING”
This was another tough assignment. We wanted a song that sounded like it was from another era, but paralleled Dee Dee’s current situation. The melody, chords, and lyrics didn’t change very much throughout the development process, but the feel of the accompaniment did. The first draft sounded very old-fashioned in the vein of No, No, Nanette. Casey felt it wasn’t aggressive enough and we agreed. So we changed the rhythms of the melody and style of the piano part to be more syncopated—this was the “Don’t Rain on My Parade” version. Then Casey or Glen Kelly (our brilliant arranger)—we don’t remember exactly who—had the idea to arrange it in the style of 1970s Sondheim. Glen took a stab at this new accompaniment and we loved it.
“LOVE THY NEIGHBOR”
We wanted to have Trent explain the Bible to the teenagers in town, so we decided to have his character starring in a tour of Godspell. The song was originally longer and our director Casey wanted us to cut it down so that the audience didn’t get ahead of it. There was one section where Trent sings about the rules of Leviticus. Losing that section was the right thing to do, but I’ll always miss the lyric, “No eating pork or eating fat? The Cheesecake Factory won’t like that!”
Emma challenges Alyssa to come out to her mother, but clearly Alyssa is afraid. We wanted to show why with this song and perhaps gain some sympathy for her. There’s a strict, almost military feel to the song that is only released during the bridge when Alyssa dreams of being free from her mother’s world.
“BARRY IS GOING TO PROM”
Here, Barry realizes to his own amazement just how much he missed going to his own prom. We wanted it to be a triumphant moment where he just lets loose.
This is a song that Emma wrote herself and it really is about how pointless it is to try to change yourself. The basic premise is whatever makes you different is what makes you special.
“IT’S TIME TO DANCE”
The finale of the show is where everyone comes together to build a prom for everyone. We wanted it to be infectious, but also defiant. “Show them all it can be done” is definitely an important part of the message.