Broadway has a reputation for being an inclusive, queer-friendly space, and yet a new musical, The Prom, is still something of a first in its representation of a romance between two teenage girls — especially because it's happy, hopeful, and without tragedy. "A lot of times we're seeing young gay boy stories [on Broadway]," says The Prom star Isabelle McCalla, speaking over the phone, "which is wonderful." Yet there's a major lack of shows starring young women, especially those who identify as queer.
"I think that's what we're getting so much from teenagers who come see it — girls are like, 'we are seeing ourselves represented for the first time,'" continues McCalla. "And the fact that our show ends on a hopeful note for them, that means that they may also be able to have these relationships that succeed and not marred by tragedy all the time."
The Prom, which opened last fall, centers on a group of liberal, recently unemployed New York Theatre professionals who fly to a small Indiana town because a high school prom has been canceled by the PTA due to a girl named Emma (Caitlin Kinnunen) wanting to take her girlfriend, Alyssa (McCalla), as her date. The fact that Alyssa is the daughter of the PTA's leader has already made things complicated — and things only get wilder once Broadway comes to town.
In the song "You Happened," the first act number whose music video you can watch exclusively above, the prom is — at least for the moment — back on. Amidst creative promposals from other students, Emma and Alyssa "steal a secret moment behind the bleachers to talk about how excited they are for the prom," explains McCalla, "and how Alyssa's going to come out and they're going to be together in public for the first time."
It's a super sweet moment between the show's romantic leads. "You get to see them enjoy each other and have fun with each other," says Kinnunen, also speaking via phone. The scene lets the audience see why Emma and Alyssa truly want to be together, despite the backlash they unfortunately experience. Its message is beautifully simple: what's easier to understand than wanting to go to a dance with your high school sweetheart?
"In focusing on a small thing," says Kinnunen, "[the show] is actually dealing with issues that are much bigger. Prom is kind of a guise to open up the conversation to things that matter more than that." It's clearly effective; some young audience members, Kinnunen and McCalla explain, even come up to them after the show in shock that LGBTQ+ discrimination is still so prevalent.
"It's been a constant reminder to listen and to really communicate with people and be honest and open to different world views," says McCalla. "It's been a refreshing look on the world outside of New York. This does happen in America. It still happen every day [...] Proms do get canceled. Kids get expelled, kids get suspended all because they wanted to take a same sex date to their school dance."
Already, The Prom has broken major ground, when McCalla and Kinnunen shared the first same sex kiss to ever be featured during the 2018 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. After the event, the actors recall, letters started pouring in from people across the country who were inspired by that moment to come out to their families. "The fact that our show is [...] the catalyst for the discussion between families," says McCalla, "is like the best thing,"
Watching the women sing and dance in The Prom, it's impossible not to fall in love with them. The fact that the show is reaching so many people in powerful, essential ways is just the icing on the cake.