By Courtney Leigh Church, Sept. 24, 2018
Fix up your hair and grab your dancing shoes; London’s Grand Theatre is taking you to prom – “Prom Queen: The Musical.”
Developed in part at Goodspeed Musicals earlier this year, “Prom Queen: The Musical” tells the story of Marc Hall who, as a high school senior in 2002, took his school board to court over the right to bring another boy to his senior dance.
At the play’s outset Marc (Devon Dixon) has a seemingly monumental task: asking his boyfriend, Jason (Damon Guidolin), to attend prom. Whether or not Jason will say yes quickly becomes secondary, however, when Marc is faced with an even bigger setback. The principle of his Catholic high school insists that same-sex dates are out of the question. Barred by administrative red tape but supported by family and friends, Marc appeals to the school board, and eventually the justice system, as he fights for his right to love.
Apart from Principal Warrick (Leyla Boyacigil), Marc has an entire school on his side. His teacher and mentor Ms. Lawrence (Dominique Delben) encourages him to chase his dreams, both academic and romantic, not despite her Catholic beliefs but because of them. Marc’s best friend Carly (Marcy Gallant) is an admirable ally who advocates tirelessly on his behalf. Vying for Carly’s attention is the school jock, Boomer Bronson (Keith Ssemugenyi), who spends much of the show struggling with his own issues of identity and self-expression.
At home, Marc’s mother, Emily Hall (Sarah Dennison), is his greatest champion. Her resolve to stand by her son never wanes even as her love for him and her own religious beliefs collide. Marc’s father, Audy Hall (Matt de Kort), struggles with his son’s sexuality more than his wife, yet he, too, eventually comes around.
The student cast brings a tremendous energy and authenticity to “Prom Queen: The Musical” which is based on Marc’s story.
Though Marc’s plight is the centre axis around which “Prom Queen: The Musical” orbits, the show is not just about equal rights based on sexual orientation. The play ties together many issues including suicide, religion, familial love, and how truly important friends and community are when an individual is faced with adversity.
“Prom Queen” is a High School Project production, a program the Grand Theatre has run for over twenty years. The High School Project affords local students the opportunity to work with and learn from theatre professionals on stage and behind the scenes. Student crew members work on everything from costumes, set design, and in the orchestra. The beauty of the High School Project is the collaboration between the student cast and crew members and their professional mentors.
Much like Marc’s request to take his boyfriend to prom, this production has not been entirely obstacle-free. The High School Project is funded in part by local school boards. However, when “Prom Queen” was announced the London District Catholic and Thames Valley District School Boards decided to pull their respective funds because of explicit language, themes, and the play’s negative portrayal of the board and church.
The public rallied, however, to save the show; nearly $60 000 was raised by an online fundraiser, almost double the amount the school boards usually contribute. Though the London District Catholic School Board stood by its decision not to fund the musical, the Thames Valley School Board announced they would reinstate their financial support after public backlash. The additional funds from the community campaign are being well spent; students throughout the region are attending the show thanks to the support of hundreds of donors.
The play is directed by the Grand’s artistic director, Dennis Garnhum, whose vision and passion for this production is infinite and infectious. Sitting in the house on opening night you could feel the love and support for these students and this project radiating throughout every corner of the theatre.
“Prom Queen: The Musical” has truly captured the hearts of Londoners.
“Prom Queen: The Musical”
The Grand Theatre
September 18 – 29
Purchase tickets online
Box office: 519-672- 8800
Courtney Church is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English and Writing Studies at Western University, where she researches modern and contemporary British theatre. Most of her time in the theatre is spent behind the scenes, tinkering with set design and thinking about props.