Casey Nicholaw, one of the masterminds behind last spring's Mean Girls, is bringing yet another upbeat musical set in a high school to Broadway—but this one tells a drastically different story. Choreographed and directed by Nicholaw, The Prom follows the experience of a lesbian couple in Edgewater, IN, who are barred from going to prom together. After reading about the girls' plight, four (fictional) Broadway stars descend on the small town to help—and exuberantly dancy chaos ensues. Dance Spirit caught up with dancer Isabelle McCalla, who stars as Alyssa Greene (one half of the central couple), for the inside scoop.
What's the choreography like in the show?
Isabelle McCalla: The choreography is super-eclectic. It ranges from classic musical theater, danced by our Broadway celebrity characters, to hip hop, danced by the teenage characters in Indiana. There's even some ballet and Fosse thrown in
What's Alyssa like?
IM: Alyssa is a very active member of her high school. She's the head of student council, on the prom committee, and her mother is the head of the PTA. She also happens to be the closeted girlfriend of our protagonist, Emma. All she wants is to find the courage to be her authentic self in public, but she's terrified that'll alienate everyone around her, especially her mother, who actively opposes the gay lifestyle.
What's it like getting to perform in such a dance-heavy show?
IM: So much fun! The bulk of my training is in dance, and that's how I first got involved with the show. When we performed our out-of-town run in Atlanta, I was in the ensemble, so I was dancing much more. While it kicked my butt, it felt incredible to tell this particular story through dance. Now, I'm telling it through a different perspective. I don't dance as much, but when I do, I get to go all in and have a blast.
What's the creative process been like?
IM: From the moment we had the first read-through, I knew this show had the potential to be something really special. The rehearsal room was incredibly collaborative, with Casey Nicholaw, the writers, and actors all pitching in. At the curtain call every night in Atlanta we'd get standing ovations. People came to various company members crying because the story had resonated with them on deeply personal levels. We knew then we'd already won over a lot of people.
What's been most challenging about the show?
IM: While I'm more excited than anything, Alyssa's arc is a bit of a challenge. She goes through a lot emotionally in order to gain the courage to come out, and openly be with the girl she loves. I want to be able to portray her as authentically as possible, especially because her story is one that so many people can relate to.
Why should people get excited about this show?
IM: It could be a major platform for the LGBTQ community. There's still a lot of work to be done in the fight for equality. Our show is full of love and humanity and shows the beauty of what happens when we just listen to each other and accept each other for who we are. I would love for the show to inspire people to be a little kinder and not so quick to judge. And it would be great if it sparked difficult conversations between families or friends that have grown apart due to their personal differences. If people leave feeling more open and accepting, we'll have done our job.
The Prom starts previews Oct. 23 and officially opens on Nov. 15 at the Longacre Theatre. theprommusical.com
A version of this story appeared in the October 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Fighting For Equality."