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Theatre / The Prom

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It's time to dance!

The Prom is a musical comedy based on an original concept by Jack Viertel, with music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and a book by Beguelin and Bob Martin. The show is directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw. The Prom had its world premiere in Atlanta, Georgia in 2016 and had its first Broadway preview October 23, 2018, officially opening on November 15. It closed nine months later but will begin a national tour in 2021.

The story revolves around 17-year-old lesbian Emma, who becomes a headline when the PTA of her Indiana high school cancels the prom rather than let her attend with her girlfriend. In New York, four veteran Broadway actors in need of good publicity hear of this and decide to go to Indiana to fix this injustice. Shenanigans inevitably ensue.

The Prom itself made both headlines and history shortly after its opening, when its performance at the 2018 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade included the first broadcast same-sex kiss in the parade's 92-year history.


A novelization was released in September 2019. A film adaptation by Ryan Murphy (Glee) was given a limited theatrical release on December 4, 2020 with a worldwide Netflix debut on December 11. The film's cast includes Meryl Streep, James Corden, Andrew Rannells, Nicole Kidman, Keegan-Michael Key and Kerry Washington with Ariana DeBose as Alyssa and newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman as Emma.

    The stage musical 
  • Abusive Parents: Emma's parents threw her out of the house upon learning that she was a lesbian. Her girlfriend Alyssa's mother has elements of this too, although she genuinely believes she's doing the best for her daughter.
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: Averted - while real life events and stories about same-sex couples being denied their proms inspired the musical, it is a completely original show. In an interesting turn of events, since the show opened on Broadway, a YA novelization and Netflix film adaptation have come to fruition.
  • Almost Kiss: Emma and Alyssa at the end of "Dance With You", in the film version. The stage version has them getting closer, but they don't attempt to kiss before they're interrupted.
  • Alpha Bitch: Shelby and Kaylee, the mean girls who ultimately ruin Emma and Alyssa's prom night.
  • …And That Little Girl Was Me: Parodied. Angie tells Emma the story of a cast member in the original 1975 production of Chicago who got cast as Roxie after everyone else got sick.
    Emma: Was that you?
    Angie: Just how fucking old do you think I am?
  • Artistic License – History: In real life, Constance McMillen never got a proper second prom by which to take her girlfriend. Instead, she transferred to another school due to bullying from students that scapegoated her for losing their actual prom. Thanks to the resulting lawsuit, however, the school district agreed to pay her $35,000 as well as cover her attorney fees and set up a non-discrimination policy. McMillen did get a lot of media attention and scholarship money for college. One can hope the musical will remind the Itawamba County School District that homophobia does not pay.
  • Artistic License – Law: The fake prom trick the PTA pulls at the end of Act One is treated as legally meeting the state's requirement to hold a prom for Emma, so it can't be challenged in court. In reality, such a trick would be described as "separate but equal," which was explicitly outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court over a period of twenty years.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Mr. Hawkins is a huge fan of Dee Dee, and not only does he get to work alongside her, he becomes her love interest by the end.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Cleverly implemented via set change in the Act 1 finale. Following "Tonight Belongs to You", which ends with the students continuing to dance at the prom, the scene transitions to the school gym's entrance; specifically, the doors to the gym lower in front of the prom set, suggesting that we're zooming out of the prom and into the next scene. This tricks the audience into thinking the prom is still being held at the gym, when in reality, it's taking place at a separate venue while the gym is completely empty.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: Emma and Alyssa at the prom during the finale of the show.
  • Both Sides Have a Point:
    • Emma and Alyssa's temporary breakup. Emma has concluded that she must go public with her story and can't emotionally handle sneaking around anymore, and understandably feels hurt by the fact that Alyssa didn't leave the secret prom to be with her when she found out what was going on. On the flipside, Alyssa is justifiably afraid to come out; as Emma's experience shows, the school isn't exactly gay-friendly. And while her mother does swallow her pride and accept her in the end, she had every reason to believe she wouldn't.
    • Dee Dee is not wrong to point out that Mr. Hawkins can't expect her to be like the heroine she played in a musical; that person he wants her to be isn't real, and she's an actress. However, it doesn't change the fact that Dee Dee was being a real jerk earlier, and Mr. Hawkins wants her to be better than that.
  • Break-Up/Make-Up Scenario: Why Emma and Alyssa break up briefly. They could handle their Secret Relationship when there was no spotlight on Emma, but the more Emma finds a voice in her fight the further away she gets from the mindset Alyssa is in. They're only able to reconcile when Alyssa overcomes her fear and stands up to her mother.
  • Brick Joke: Early in the show, Angie snaps a quick photo of Emma before running off to do who-knows-what with it. The picture would later show up again in “The Acceptance Song”... blown up as a gigantic poster.
  • BSoD Song: The song "Alyssa Greene" is about Alyssa's frustration towards her controlling mother and how she wishes that she could simply live her life on her own terms. It starts angry but dissolves into sadness, and is also the point in the story where Emma and Alyssa break up.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Towards the end, Alyssa calls her mother out for her bigotry, and finally reveals that she's a lesbian.
  • Camp Gay: Barry in spades. Sheldon, the group's PR manager, also qualifies.
  • Character Development: Every character, but particularly the narcissistic Barry and Dee Dee, once they start communicating with the townspeople of Edgewater. Emma and Alyssa, too, both undergo development over the course of the show.
  • Closet Key: Emma may be implied to have been this for Alyssa prior to the events of the show, as one of Alyssa's sung lines refers to not being honest with herself before she met Emma.
  • Coax Them Out of the Closet: Everybody in school knows Emma is a lesbian (and bullies her because of it), but they don't know Alyssa is her girlfriend. Alyssa can't come out lest she risk her popularity and especially her mother's wrath. At the end of act one, when Emma thinks Alyssa was in on the school's ploy to abandon Emma during prom, Emma lashes out at Alyssa for not coming out and leaving her to feel alone.
  • Cool Old Lady: Emma lives with her unseen grandmother who, unlike her parents, is completely fine with her granddaughter's sexuality.
    Emma: I live with my grandmother now. She's cool. She likes the gays.
  • Crowd Pleaser: The Broadway actors, but particularly Barry and Dee Dee.
  • Dance of Romance: Emma and Alyssa at the prom, which has been their dream for the whole show.
  • Dark Reprise: Emma's reprise of "Tonight Belongs to You" after walking into the empty gym and realizing that the entire school has tricked her into attending a fake prom by herself.
    Emma: One things' universal/Life's no dress rehersal/When people find a scapegoat to condemn./We went big, yet we've blown it/Well, I guess I should have known it/ Tonight belonged to them.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Lampshaded during the song "Love Thy Neighbor".
    Trent: Let's hope you don't masturbate 'cause the scripture says we'll have to cut off your... hands.
  • Disappeared Dad: Alyssa's father abandoned her and her mother some time prior to the events of the plot, although it's never stated why.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Everyone gets a happy ending; Emma and Alyssa get their dance, Mrs. Greene resolves to better her relationship with Alyssa and accept her for who she is, the inclusive prom is a roaring success, Dee Dee finds a good man in Mr. Hawkins, Angie gets to go on as Roxie Hart in Chicago, Trent finds his true calling as a drama teacher, and Barry finally got to go to prom—and in the film, he also gets to reconcile with his mother.
  • The Eleven O'Clock Number: "Unruly Heart", which Emma writes and performs in-universe about her character growth and how she won't let other people dictate how she's going to live her life. She's joined by the ensemble appearing as LGBTQ youth across the country, an indication of her video starting to go viral.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Despite their ulterior motives for helping, the Broadway actors all legitimately think it's messed up that the school won't let Emma bring her girlfriend to prom.
    • Dee Dee, easily the most selfish of the actors, is taken aback when she learns Emma's parents threw her out.
  • Exact Words: Played for Drama. The state government requires the PTA to hold an inclusive prom, and Mrs. Greene, along with the rest of the PTA, obliges. However, they throw two proms—one that Emma is tricked into going to completely alone, and one that everyone else in the school attends. Mrs. Greene smugly claims that she did as was requested when challenged—Emma got a school-sponsored prom, didn't she?
  • Fish out of Water: The New Yorkers have a pretty hard time roughing it in the small town of Edgewater, as demonstrated when they assume the motel they stay at has suites and spas. Barry also looks a little distraught when he offers to take Emma to Saks Fifth Avenue, only to be told that all they have is a Kmart (in the film, he outright chugs a bottle in disbelief).
  • Freudian Excuse: In "Alyssa Greene," it's suggested that Mrs. Greene controls everything in her daughter's life because of her divorce; Alyssa sadly sings " 'Cause Mom's convinced if you're perfect/Your father might come back..."
  • The Ghost: Eddie Sharp, Dee Dee's ex-husband who went on to become the host of his own late night talk show. We almost get to see him in-person when Dee Dee begrudgingly books Emma to appear on his show, but we never do since she turns down the opportunity.
  • Gospel Revival Number: "Love Thy Neighbor", where Trent teaches the conservative students of Indiana to be more accepting towards people like Emma.
  • Heel Realization:
    • Gradually for the New Yorkers. They realized their reviewers got it right. They were narcissists and selfish pricks who were only trying to increase their own fame.
    • One for Mrs. Greene too after her daughter comes out and she's faced with either giving up her beliefs or having to stop loving her daughter. Unlike a lot of parents in that position, she chooses right.
  • Hot Teacher: Dee Dee certainly seems to think this about Mr. Hawkins, the school's principal.
  • Humble Goal: All Emma wants to do is bring Alyssa to prom and dance with her. And she does.
  • Hypocrite: "Love Thy Neighbor" has Trent taking Emma's bullies to task for claiming to be good Christians and using the Bible to justify homophobia, while they and their families break several other Biblical rules every day, such as having premarital sex or divorcing. He also points out that claiming to follow the teachings of Jesus, while utterly ignoring the Golden Rule, isn't very Christian behavior. Amazingly enough, it goes through.
  • "I Am Becoming" Song: As mentioned above, "Unruly Heart" is this for Emma. "The Lady's Improving" serves as this for Dee Dee, too, signalling her change to becoming a more selfless person.
  • "I Am Great!" Song: Before that character development, Dee Dee's "It's Not About Me" contains a lot of references to her sense of self-worth and inflated ego. Likewise, the show's opening number "Changing Lives" is about how Barry and Dee Dee view themselves as influencers before their show Eleanor!: The Eleanor Roosevelt Story closes on opening night.
  • "I Am" Song: "Just Breathe" for Emma, as it's the first time the audience hear her sing, and the song is about how she's trying to stay optimistic and how she attempts to cope with her homophobic classmates.
  • Incoming Ham: At the PTA meeting, Mr. Hawkins tells the board, "Ask yourselves exactly what it is you find so frightening about homosexuals." Cue Barry and the others thunderously barging in with picket signs.
  • "I Want" Song: "Dance with You", Emma and Alyssa's duet, is a classic and touching example about how they don't want to cause controversy but instead simply wish to dance with each other at prom.
  • In-Universe Soundtrack: A number of the songs exist in-universe. Trent pens "The Acceptance Song"; "The Lady's Improving" is from Dee Dee's highly successful show Swallow the Moon; "Unruly Heart" is this for Emma.
  • Intertwined Fingers: Emma and Alyssa multiple times in private and then publicly after Alyssa comes out.
  • Jerkass Realization: Emma's classmates after "Love Thy Neighbor", after a thorough dressing-down from Trent. They go to Emma to personally apologize and admit they were acting like jerks.
  • Jerk Jock: Nick, the football player who mocks Emma for being gay. As with the other students, he learns to become much more accepting by the end.
  • Large Ham: Every single one of the New York characters, but particular mention goes to Trent. He went to Julliard and he will not let you forget it.
  • Let's Duet: Emma and Alyssa a few times through the show - "Dance with You" as mentioned above and then also during "You Happened" and the short reprise of "Dance with You" at the beginning of "It's Time to Dance". Averted, however, for Dee Dee and Hawkins, the show's other romantic couple.
  • Longing Look: Not hugely noticeable, but Emma and Alyssa steal a lot of looks during Act 1, especially before the reveal that Alyssa is the mystery girlfriend who Emma wanted to bring to prom.
  • Love Confession: Alyssa comes out to her mother and by extension everyone near the end of the show, which includes openly declaring her love for Emma.
  • Masculine–Feminine Gay Couple: Emma is more butch (uncomfortable wearing a dress and much more comfortable in a tux) and Alyssa is more femme (being more comfortable in a dress), although neither of them verge into caricature territory.
  • Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: "Tonight Belongs to You", which features Emma and Barry, Alyssa and Mrs. Greene, and the rest of the kids preparing for the prom and serves as the climax to the end of Act 1.
  • Media Scrum: The reporters questioning Mrs. Greene at the beginning of Act 2 after news of the fake prom gets out.
  • Misery Builds Character: Both Emma and Alyssa have a rough time of it during the events of the show, but they both come out the other side as stronger and more developed people.
  • My Beloved Smother: Mrs. Greene, without a doubt.
  • No Song for the Wicked: Mrs. Greene's only solo comes in "Tonight Belongs to You", although she's arguably an antagonist rather than a full villain.
  • Official Couple: Emma and Alyssa.
  • Opening Chorus: The curtain comes up on the opening night party of Eleanor!: The Eleanor Roosevelt Story and very quickly goes into the opening number, "Changing Lives".
  • Painful Rhyme: Invoked. "The Acceptance Song" (which was written by Trent In-Universe) contains the line "Bigotry's not big of me, and it's not big of you", much to the chagrin of the other actors.
  • Pep-Talk Song: "Zazz", in which Angie helps boost Emma's confidence using advice (and spontaneous choreography) passed onto her from Bob Fosse himself.
  • Poster-Gallery Bedroom: Emma's bedroom contains a lot of small details, including Riverdale and Lady Bird posters, photo booth picture strips, a hermit crab, multiple Harry Potter books and even a Troll doll.
  • Prom Is for Straight Kids: Challenging this view is essentially the core plot of the whole show.
  • The Promposal: An entire musical number dedicated to them! "You Happened" parallels the straight students' over-the-top public promposals with Emma and Alyssa's private one.
  • Recognition Failure: The actors arrive at a hotel where Dee Dee and Barry's attempts to sway the concierge with their Tony Awards (or Drama Desk, in Barry's case) fail spectacularly. Cue Trent, whose old sitcom is broadcast daily and he is acknowledged by the employee.
  • Relationship Upgrade: Dee Dee and Principal Hawkins.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Principal Hawkins, the only adult at James Madison High who actively fights for Emma's right to attend prom.
  • The Reasons You Suck Song: Love Thy Neighbor, which categorically goes over how all the reasons Emma's classmates have for hating her are hypocritical.
  • Running Gag: Trent flaunting the fact that he attended Julliard. Barry makes it clear right from the get go that it's all he ever talks about. There's also the recurring joke of people only remembering him as "the guy from Talk to the Hand".
  • Secret Relationship: Emma and Alyssa, for a year and a half.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Trent name-drops Stephen Sondheim and Sweeney Todd. After Sondheim's passing, the shout-out was changed to Andrew Lloyd Webber and The Phantom of the Opera.
    • In "Changing Lives (Reprise)", the actors declare that they'll march until the town "looks like the end of Act I of Les Mis".
    • When confronting the PTA, Dee Dee sings "I understand furious townsfolk, I did Beauty and the Beast!" before doing the Mrs. Potts pose.
    • Angie, who had been a chorus girl in Chicago for 20 years, helps motivate Emma with her song “Zazz”, an Affectionate Parody of “All That Jazz”.
    • The end of Dee Dee’s big solo, “The Lady’s Improving”, sounds nearly identical to the ending of “Don’t Rain on My Parade”.
    • When Barry requests for Emma to share her story on TV in any way possible, he adds “I don’t care if it’s a cutaway on Family Guy, just get it done!”
    • Two references to Carrie: Angie compares the group’s disastrous truck rally fiasco to the stage musical's initial panning, and when Emma talks about the prom incident, she says “The only thing that would’ve made it worse was if a bucket of pig’s blood fell on my head.”
    • In "Tonight Belongs to You", Barry declares himself to be the "Galinda" to Emma's "Elphie".
    • "Love Thy Neighbor" sounds a good deal like "We Beseech Thee" (their verse patterns are almost identical) from Godspell. Fitting in that Trent is currently starring in that musical.
  • Show Within a Show: Barry and Dee Dee open the musical on opening night of their new show Eleanor!: The Eleanor Roosevelt Story, playing FDR and Eleanor respectively. It's critically lambasted, and subsequently closes on opening night (apparently, this isn't the first time). Small tidbits about the show are revealed throughout the course of the story, including the fact that Eleanor included hip-hop music.
  • Silly Love Songs: "You Happened", a joyous and upbeat song about Emma and Alyssa's relationship (and to a lesser extent, Kaylee and Nick's as well as Shelby and Kevin's).
  • Single Girl Seeks Most Popular Guy: A lesbian variation - Alyssa is part of the popular crowd and Emma... is not. Though this might only be because of her outing prior to the show, because it's mentioned during "Love Thy Neighbor" that she used to be friends with Kaylee "before she turned gay".
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Despite its portrayal of homophobia and its sad moments, this show is idealistic as all get-out. The songs are bright and poppy, the choreography is extravagant, the color pallet is bright, the antagonistic characters all make a Heel–Face Turn, and everyone gets their happy ending.
  • The Something Song: Trent writes a so-called rousing anthem to perform at a monster truck rally in an attempt to encourage the people of the town to accept Emma and LGBTQ ideas as a whole. What does he name this anthem? "The Acceptance Song".
  • Spontaneous Choreography: Both played straight and averted, depending on the contextual situation of the number. For songs like "It's Not About Me" and "The Acceptance Song", it's very clear that the dance is choreographed in-universe, but "Love Thy Neighbor" on the other hand is an example of this trope.
  • Stylistic Suck: “The Acceptance Song” is intended to be a hokey, poorly-written “anthem” composed by Trent. The other actors agree that it’s downright awful.
  • Teens Are Monsters: The kids at the school, especially in Act One. They get better.
  • This Is a Song: "The Acceptance Song" is unashamedly this, played for comedy.
  • Villain Song: Although she's more of an obstacle than a full-on villain, Mrs. Greene has a rather suspicious sounding moment during "Tonight Belongs to You".
    Mrs. Greene: I don't like when strangers get in my way/Or anyone who messes with the PTA/Well maybe that's just me/But trust me/Fixing little problems is what I do/Now everyone is happy, I promise you!
  • Wham Line: "What's going on?" The end of Act One, when Emma discovers all of her classmates have set her up with a fake prom. It also leads to her breakup with Alyssa, as Emma doesn't believe that she didn't know.
    The film adaptation 
  • Abled in the Adaptation: Emma in the Broadway show typically wore glasses, while the film adaptation’s Emma does not.
  • Adaptational Context Change: In the stage version of "It's Time to Dance", Barry flirtatiously sings "I just wanna dance with you" to the high school coach. In the film, he instead sings the line to his mother, who lovingly obliges.
  • Abusive Parents: The film reveals that when Barry came out to his parents, he left before they could kick him out. Dee Dee gets in contact with his mother and they reconcile. His father, on the other hand, is nowhere to be seen, having been unable to accept him.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Assuming the characters are the same age as the actors, Mr. Hawkins is twenty years younger than Dee Dee here, but no less smitten with her.
  • Actor Allusion: Trent does a jazz split during "Love Thy Neighbor", the same move that Andrew Rannells pulled off in The Book of Mormon. Choreographer Casey Nicholaw (who previously worked with Rannells in the aforementioned show) convinced him to do it again for old time's sake.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • The film adds a good amount of new scenes that delve deeper into Barry and Dee Dee's personal stories. Dee Dee's relationship with Eddie is given more insight, as is Barry's relationship with his estranged parents (which later culminates in his mother paying him a visit near the end to reconcile with her son).
    • Emma's grandmother, a previously unseen character, actually appears in-person for the film, mainly to explain her granddaughter's situation to Barry and the viewers.
  • Advertised Extra: Nicole Kidman received more exposure in the advertising than the size of her role suggests, especially since Angie had less to do in the film than the stage version.
  • Bowdlerise: The film removes a good amount of profanity from the script (including every F-bomb). "Changing Lives (Reprise)" has two notable alterations:
    • Among the list of stereotypes the actors think of Indiana, "inbred wives" is changed to "homey wives".
    • Barry's line at the end is changed from "Now let's go help that dyke!" to "Now let's go start a fight!"
  • Casting Gag: Andrew Rannells plays Trent Oliver, meaning he gets to sing about the Bible and Christ's teachings all over again (albeit with a different context). The jokes about hip-hop and rap around Trent is also this, given that Rannells was in Hamilton as King George III, who doesn't rap.
  • Cool Old Lady: The film features Mary Kay Place as Bea, Emma's previously unseen grandmother.note  She welcomes the Broadway actors with open arms.
  • Longing Look: The film gives Emma and Alyssa more noticeable ones than the show, particularly during the PTA meeting, where they're using the slim connection to support each other as best they can in public.
  • Media Scrum: The film opens with this, with the media swarming Mrs. Greene and then Emma before the scene cuts to Broadway.
  • Movie Bonus Song:
    • "Wear Your Crown", performed by Dee Dee, Alyssa, Emma, Mrs. Greene and Angie, plays over the first part of the end credits.
    • "Simply Love", which plays over the second half of the credits, performed by Barry.note 
  • Musicalis Interruptus: Alyssa's solo verse in "You Happened" gets cut short by the camera panning to Shelby and Kaylee, who have put Alyssa and Emma's secret relationship together.
  • No Song for the Wicked: Averted, The Film of the Play gives Mrs. Greene a part in "Wear Your Crown", as part of her character development.
  • Race Lift: Mrs. Greene was initially played by a Caucasian actor on stage but is played by Black actor Kerry Washington here.
  • Rule of Symbolism: During "Love Thy Neighbor", the camera pans up to some mall signs that, thanks to the angle, appear to form a cross above Trent and the ensemble. Appropriate imagery for a rousing Gospel Revival Number!
  • Shout-Out: Barry's phone password is 9481, Beyoncé's birthday. Dee Dee says she got it on the first try.
  • Spotting the Thread: Dee Dee realizes something is fishy when she notices that the school parking lot is empty on prom night.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Trent gets carsick and the scene cuts just as he retches into a bucket.

"Is this what not failing feels like?"
"Yeah, I think it is. Pretty good, huh?"

Video Example(s):


You Happened (The Prom)

Emma and Alyssa celebrate the prom getting back on and prepare to come out publicly.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (1 votes)

Example of:

Main / SecretRelationship

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