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Quick! Get Your Tuxes and Dresses Ready for Burlington County Footlighter’s Production of The Prom!!

by MJ Smith

Can you picture it? A room with a dance floor that expands before you with a sea of people. The lights are dim with an occasional colorful strobe that reflects across the many, MANY decorations that adorn the room around you. The dresses and tuxes are as extravagant as the people who are wearing them as you take in the night that you have only heard stories about: prom night. This same night awaits you at the Burlington County Fair’s production of The Prom by Chad Beguelin, Bob Martin, & Matthew Sklar. Directed by Alan Krier, The Prom follows the story of Emma Nolan (portrayed by Lili Myers) as she attempts to have the night of her life at her school’s own prom. However, in the town & PTA’s eyes there is only one issue with her attendance…she wants to bring her girlfriend. In a small town in Indiana that is set in its religious beliefs and is close-knit after a recent rift in a nearby factory that displaced many of its community members, the town is quick to demean someone that is not within their own established norm. The Prom closely follows Emma’s story as she has to fight for herself and the chance to have the night of a lifetime with the “help” of some unexpected friends. 

The show opens up on a pair of narcissistic Broadway stars, Dee Dee Allen & Barry Glickman, being interviewed by Olivia Keating (portrayed by Jocelyn Williams) about their latest opening show. The pair are reminiscing as Williams effectively brings in the News Channel feel, but soon receive a scathing article by the New York Times from their PR champion Sheldon Saperstein (portrayed by David Mooney-Todd) that closes their show on its opening night. The down on their luck duo, excellently portrayed by Trisha Dennis (Dee Dee Allen) and Tim Herman (Barry Glickman), must come to terms with the fact that their less than desirable personalities have now cost them their fan base and the love of the public. Through their choreography by Tom Shaw Jr. and costumes by Amanda Cogdell, Brooke Christine, and Molly Christine, their eccentric personalities come through beautifully, but still highlights their need to grow as people. As they reunite with some past friends Trent Oliver (portrayed by Vinnie Difilippo) and Angie Dickinson (portrayed  by Jennifer Kaiser) the group realizes that performative activism is the way to revitalize their careers. In the song “Changing Lives” the quintuplet charms the audience with beautiful vocals through the talented musical direction of Peg Smith and musical assistance of Anan Egan with their fantastic harmonies and powerful deliveries of the number. Once the group finds an article that highlights Emma’s struggle with being able to go to prom as a queer student, the show kicks off as they make their way to a small town in Indiana aspiring to become the heroes of this story. 

The world then transforms into Emma’s high school through the set design of Jim Frazer and dedicated work from the construction and stage crew Allison Adams, Torbin Christiansen, Molly Christine, Rory Christine, Nina DeLong, Charlotte Dranchak, Larry Driscoll, Dan Evans, Nicole Manning, Dave Pallas the Younger, Tom Shaw Jr., and Bill Shaughnessy. The effortless shifting of this world through the stage crew and direction by stage manager, Heidi Kleber, quickly throws the audience into the isolation that Emma must endure as she goes through life in this small town. Lili Myers’ rendition of “Just Breathe” is excellent from start to finish as they portray the  hopes of a queer student who is dreaming of something better that awaits Emma when she is able to leave the isolation and hate that she’s had to endure for so long. This is highlighted by the characters Nick (Michael Aquilino) and Kevin (Aaron Wachs) as they make homophobic comments and jokes about her and her (yet to be revealed) girlfriend. Their bro-like connection on stage effectively characterizes the jocks that constantly make Emma’s high school life miserable and transports the audience to feel the experience that bullied teens have had to face during school, especially when they are queer or seen as different. As a result of Aquilino and Wach’s performance, the audience is brought into the world of a typical high school outcast who must face the trepidation and ridicule from their peers.

In addition to the isolation at school, the adult cast that make up the PTA effectively works to illustrate a small town that has clung to their close-minded religious  beliefs and customs as they deal with a rift in a nearby factory has led to the displacement of many community members. The adult cast consisting of Shane Barrett, Jared Iafolla, Alex Keith, Amanda Kotch, AJ Krier, Jessica Plaskon, Gina Petti, Andrea Veneziano all make strong choices as they portray the town that passes along their teachings to their children leading to the intolerance that Emma must face in this town. The lighting design by Jim Frazer and Heidi Kleber and sound design by Heidi Kleber and Alan Krier accompanying the adult casts’ demeanor is effectively emphasized in a moment during the PTA meeting where Principal Hawkins (portrayed by Rick Williams) and Emma are diligently working to fight for Emma’s ability to go to the prom. As one of her only supporters at this moment in the production, Williams’ decisions and motivations are clear as he takes on the administrative supporter role and one of the caring figures for Emma, always elevating her voice and making sure that it is she who leads the charge. As this meeting occurs, our Broadway quintuplet bursts in with picket signs and “support” for Emma, creating the impetus for the adult cast members to further represent the town's defensiveness as they are called homophobic, etc.  The cast here portrays the deep tension between the two groups (The Town vs. Emma, Principal Hawkins, and the Broadway quintuplet) and the chaos in the scene is clear and effectively depicts the disrupting force that is when the group comes to town – leading to much needed transformation and openness. 

Alongside Emma’s conflict in this production, her girlfriend, Alyssa Greene (portrayed by Lisa Krier) shows the struggle of coming out for queer folk and the journey that it is for someone who decides to come out when they are ready. For Alyssa, her mother Mrs. Greene (portrayed by Amanda Dranchak) is the head of the PTA and is expecting perfection from her in every way. Krier beautifully illustrates the story of Alyssa as a closeted girl who must be perfect in any way to gather support and love from her mother. Krier effectively accomplishes this in the song of “Alyssa Greene” through their impact moments and  emotional cues that bring audiences to tears. This pairs sadly beautifully with Dranchak’s take on Mrs. Greene as a mother who is deeply concerned about the well-being of her daughter and wanting to give her the easiest life possible. Through Dranchak’s depiction of Mrs. Greene’s refusal to accept Emma, the audience holds their breath as they anxiously await for Alyssa to come out to her mother. Through these efforts, Krier and Dranchak highlight that moment that comes for many queer folks that make the decision to come out to their parents, which is the moment before you come out. With the intentionality behind this production and the cast’s portrayal of the characters and their motives, the moments with Krier and Dranchak are ones that are truthful and open through and through, and speak to the complicated emotions and journey that it can take to come out to a loved one. 

As the show progresses, and audiences see numerous examples of isolation and intolerance, there are even more beautiful examples of love, support, and growth in this production. One of the moments of growth that audience members are able to see is the moment where Trent and the cast of Godspell all take part in having an open conversation with the kids of the town Michael Aquilino, Olivia Barnes, Warren Berenbrok, Amelia Finley, Abby Fried, Robert Jacob, Olive Myers, Megan Panter, Jamie Sheffer, Aaron Wachs, & Clara Westfall and their beliefs. Vinnie Difilippo as Trent Williams serves as a supportive source that develops the growth of the kids of the community. In his delivery of “Love Thy Neighbor”, we see Difilippo use essential elements and moments to break through to the kids of the town. We see this initially through the characters of Kaylee ( portrayed by Jamie Sheffer) and Shelby (portrayed by Megan Panter) as they are the first characters who have a change of heart and are quick to understand the need to grow and be accepting. This is done through Sheffer and Panter’s beat work as you see their beliefs coming into question as they unlearn the close-minded lessons that they learned from their parents. Through Difilippo’s work as Trent and their song “Love Thy Neighbor” with fantastic rhythm work done through the tamborines through prop masters Krissy Gannotta and Kevin Pavon, Difilippo’s portrayal of Trent effectively highlights how an outside source plays a pivotal role in beginning to understand an experience that is different than your own is the key to continuing to grow. 

Alongside the growth and developing support of the community outside of Emma, Angie Dickinson (portrayed by Jennifer Kaiser) & Barry Glickman (portrayed by Tim Herman) depict the deep rooted support that Emma has not had before. In the moments before the song “Zazz”, audiences are able to see Kaiser’s representation of Angie and the key moment where they are able to bring out the iron will of Angie and use that as motivation to encourage Emma to share her story. This support that we see through Angie is a beautiful and effective use of the space and pacing that is key to the success of moments like this one. Furthermore, the connection between Barry and Emma is palpable from the audience. Seeing these two connect on stage was a beautiful sight, and seeing Herman take this role in a comedic way that was entirely authentic to Barry’s deeper emotional ties was brilliant to its core. As the character of Barry is taking the lessons he never learned and giving them to Emma, we see Herman and Myers both take this same love for each other and transform it to a story of transformation as Emma comes into herself while Barry also comes into himself as well. The two were dynamite on stage and their connection made it a truly unforgettable experience.  Finally, as Emma goes through her journey throughout this production, Myers’ brought the audience together in tears through the song “Unruly Heart”. Here, the audience sees Emma take her experience and use it to inspire those around her to be themselves and be that support that she never had. Myers’ depiction of Emma during these moments where she was spotlighted by spotlight and projections operator Molly Christine were masterful and beautifully completed. As we see growth from all areas in this show, the audience was understandably moved and the roar of applause I’m sure could be heard outside.

It is the last song of the night. You know the song because you’ve heard it everywhere, and the DJ probably made an announcement that you didn’t hear because you were having too much fun either dancing, making memories with your friends, or you already left. However, it is still the last song of the night and it truly was a night to remember. Just like that may have been a night to remember, so was this experience at the Burlington County Footlighter’s production of The Prom. This was a show full of laughs, gasps and tears and you should run to get your tickets as soon as possible to be able to experience this show!

The Prom runs Thursdays (8:00 pm) , Fridays (8:00 pm), Saturdays (8:00 pm), and Sundays (2:00 pm) from now until May 18! Tickets can be purchased: ! 


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