This fall season, The Segal Centre for Performing Arts presents the World Premiere of Prom Queen: The Musical, an original Canadian production directed by Marcia Kash that is based on the famous true story of Marc Hall, the Ontario teen who took his Catholic school board to court when they prohibited him from taking a same-sex date to the prom. The controversial case that made international news headlines in 2002 and set a historical precedent for LGBTQ communities everywhere is now a full-blown mega musical – and, most fortuitously, a first-rate, five-star one at that.
It’s the end of the school year and all the bright, wide-eyed, astronomy-loving Marc Hall (Alessandro Costantini) wants to do is take his boyfriend, Jason (Jonathan Cullen), to prom. When his request is met with adamant dismissal by his school principal, however, little does he know that his dream of a life among the stars would suddenly begin to take on an alternative and rather unexpected form.
As the seventeen-year-old is further confronted by opposing institutional authority and anti-gay members of his own small-town community, he is backed by classmates Carly (Sydney Scotia), Boomer (Kolton Stewart), Tiffany (Hailey Lewis), Kristal (Stephanie Sy), Triple X (Zach Counsil), and Napoleon (Jamie Mayers), all of whom at some point converge in their collective struggle to navigate relationships and to ascertain their own identities. Meanwhile, Marc’s boyfriend Jason faces resistance in fully coming out, succumbing to the overwhelming fear of condemnation by his macho peers and the eventual invasiveness of the media circus surrounding him.
With the cautious but growing support of his devout Catholic mother (Katee Julien) and guarded father (Sylvain Scott), Marc inevitably finds himself empowered to take a courageous stand for individual rights and freedom, challenging the moral convictions of a faith and a discriminatory system that refused to acquiesce to his humble hopes and wishes of being able to celebrate one of young life’s most significant milestones with the person he loved. He takes his school board to court and the rest is Canadian history.
Prom Queen: The Musical has the brazen, blue-haired Alessandro Costantini as its glowing centrepiece in what is a magnetic, high-wattage performance from the get-go. While Costantini’s effervescent, larger-than-life characterization contrasts with the more low-key nature of the real-world Marc, it works. (Prom Queen, while inspired by Hall, is not fixated on the minutiae of his story, and much has been adapted for theatrical purposes.) Impressive vocals need not be mentioned, but only because Costantini’s charismatic portrayal of Hall is ultimately what gives Prom Queen the hearty texture and substance we thoroughly crave. Jonathan Cullen in his more subdued role also deserves a worthy mention for comprising an endearing couple you’re most moved to root for.
Up-and-coming composer-lyricist duo Colleen Dauncey and Akiva Romer-Segal (both of whom we to spoke earlier this month in an in-depth interview) set the hammering heartbeat of Prom Queen with a score that is as electrifying (cue the 90’s pop tunes-inspired “Inside Out”) as it is poignant (nod to “Infinite”, one of several beautiful ballads that treats us to our hero’s sensitive, introspective qualities). Mark Camilleri’s musical direction and orchestrations flesh out the youthful, colourful, and upbeat music and lyrics that capture Hall’s spirited essence. What ultimately sends the songs soaring, however, are the all-around powerhouse vocal performances, with notable numbers including Katee Julien’s haunting hymn “Mother Mary” and David Silvestri’s gospel Act 2 opener in which he asserts himself as Marc’s “Wynning” lawyer.
It’s not a party without some fancy footwork, though, and So You Think You Can Dance’s Sean Cheesman doesn’t disappoint in further elevating the already abundantly flavourful Prom Queen with rich and explosive choreography. (The SYTYCD judge is internationally renowned for working with the likes of Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Prince, Tina Turner, Vanessa Williams, and Britney Spears). Add Luc Prairie’s prismatic lighting and John C. Dinning’s glam costumes and titanic set and we’re engaged and sold on the festivities.
Making the varsity cut of our “must-see” shows this fall season in Montreal theatre, Prom Queen: The Musical triumphantly delivers its message on tolerance, acceptance, and respect (the moment that hooked us for good? Costantini’s eleven o’clock number “Only a Boy”). And, while we would hesitate to profess it to be groundbreaking on most fronts (Kent Staines’ book is solid, but some of the stock characters and subplot lines may as well have been plucked directly out of High School Musical), the realization of its premise and its inspiring, revolutionary root story is the anchor that will allow this high-value production to breathe life beyond the Segal (Marc Hall’s very presence on opening night further lent itself in removing us from the razzle-dazzle and reminding us of the factual occurrences). Prom Queen – akin to its unapologetic protagonist – attempts not to be something it isn’t, and for that we openly and highly sing its praises.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon
Prom Queen: The Musical continues its extended run at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts (5170 Chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine, Montréal, QC H3W 1M7) until November 23rd, 2016. Tickets are $51 – 65 (discounted rates available) and can be purchased online or by calling the Box Office at 514-739-7944.
Running time: Two hours plus a 20-minute intermission
Read our interview with Prom Queen songwriters
Akiva Romer-Segal and Colleen Dauncey here
Also – check out our video review of “Prom Queen” by Hub collaborator Sara Wunsch!