Avid musical theater geeks (like me!) are often mesmerized by the elaborate dance numbers, encapsulating scenery, and engaging plot line which come together to create a musical masterpiece. A theatrical production with all of these elements and an impactful social message makes a show even more enchanting.
New Broadway Musical Comedy “The Prom” tackles several social issues, including homophobia and social injustice, while still weaving together varying elements of every celebrated musical.
Earlier this month, I had the honor of listening some of the show’s songs at the 2018 Elsie Fest in New York City’s Central Park. Afterward, I sat down with 27-year-old seasoned Broadway veteran Caitlin Kinnunen (past Broadway credits include “Spring Awakening” and “The Bridges of Madison County”) to discuss her role in the upcoming musical and The Prom’s social presence.
Q: Please provide a synopsis of the show from the perspective of a performer.
A: The show is about a 17-year-old girl who wants to take her girlfriend to her school prom but the school finds out and they cancel the prom. Then, these four veteran Broadway performers who have just been in a huge flop show– no one wants to come see it, they’re down on their luck– they decide they want to do something better with their lives and get themselves some good press. So, they decide to go to Indiana, where this girl is located, and try to save the day. Shenanigans ensue, and crazy things happen, and you’d have to come see the show to find out what actually happens!
Q: “The Prom” has quite a unique storyline! Where did the show’s concept originate from?
A: Yeah, so the concept of the show was actually based on kind of a collection of stories. Unfortunately, this event has happened to a lot of kids across the United States, so they’ve kind of taken the idea of it from all of those put together. It’s not based on one specific event, but kind of all as a collective whole. And then they wanted to put a Broadway flare to it, and so they added the other elements (of) it.
Q: I read that the director of “The Prom,” Casey Nicholaw, is also the co-director of “The Book of Mormon,” which is known for their controversial yet powerful satire and social commentary. Which elements of satire and social commentary, without giving too much away, are most important in the show.
A: Well, “The Prom” does a really good job of bringing levity to a kind of serious topic. Something I love about the show so much is that it is a classic musical comedy, and so there are huge, amazing dance numbers, really great standard musical theater songs. It’s funny, but then at the center of it, there’s this heartfelt chunk of gold in the middle of it, and the balance between those both worlds is incredible. And so you get to laugh at the situation and poke fun of it, but still take away the heart of it. It brings comedy to a serious situation which I think is a great way to talk about anything. So, yeah, a combination of the two is really good!
Q: Could you please briefly describe your character?
A: Emma Nolan is 17 years old. She’s a high school student, and she’s a lesbian. She is pretty confident in herself and her life choices, and she just wants to be accepted by her peers and by the parents. She wants people to realize that she’s just a human being, and all she wants to do is go to the prom with her girlfriend, and it’s not that big of a deal, and she doesn’t understand why people won’t let her.
Q: What initially drew you to this character?
A: Her honesty. I think she is really truthful and really open and just such an individual … I feel like she draws everyone in because she’s just a real person and so everyone can relate to her and that really is what I love about her so much.
Q: What is the best thing you do to prepare for an audition?
A: For me, it’s different for everybody, but for me, I like to be as familiar with the material that they’ve given you as possible. That doesn’t necessarily mean off-book, but just like know where you start, know the middle and know the end, so you actually have an arch. And then, just try to relax as much as possible. I do a lot of breathing exercises before I go into room because it is important to be yourself and be comfortable in that room so that they can really see who you are, so just be yourself, bring your confidence, bring your A-game and try to breathe and relax.
Q: What is one vocal warmup you do before every show?
A: Oh gosh! I do a lot of humming. For me, the show is kind of vocally demanding and with a warm-up it’s important for me not to push too hard during the warm-up because then I won’t have anything left for the actual show. So for me, the warm-up is actually really simple and really calm. It’s not a lot, it’s nothing crazy, it’s just some like gentle lip trills, some humming, some scales, and that’s kind of it. I do a lot of tongue exercises, where it’s like you like wrap it around your teeth and stick it out funny and really just make sure it’s ready to go. But yeah, it’s all about truly warming up your voice, not blasting it out before you’ve even started.
Q: What is the best thing that you do to get into character?
A: Again, breathing exercises! I’m all about breathing! I think it’s really important to be grounded and present in what you do. So, for me, breathing exercises are really what help me do that. Just focuses you in, it really just, it gets you there. Breathing. Shocking. Everyone should do it!
Q: What do you hope for audience members to get out of seeing the show?
A: I hope that audience members who have come to see the show leave feeling hopeful. I hope that they leave feeling accepted, and I hope that they can leave with an open and changed mind. I want people to come and see the show and leave thinking a little bit differently about the world and seeing things in a new light, and I really think the show does a good job of making that happen.
Q: One reason why “The Prom” is a must-see show.
A: It’s joyous, it’s fun, it’s heartfelt, it’s just incredible! It’s a special show!
Q: How is “The Prom” creating a kinder and braver world?
A: “The Prom” is creating a kinder and braver world by promoting acceptance and equality and kindness and trying to spread that by music and comedy and life.
Broadway previews of the show premiered last week, so make sure to see “The Prom” at the Longacre Theater! You can learn more about the show or buy tickets here: https://theprommusical.com/
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)