#122 - The Prom (feat. Princess Weekes) Transcript
The original post for this episode can now be found here.
Transcriptions by: Masha Latvinava
The Prom – Episode #122 – December 30, 2020
JESS: Hello, I'm Jesse McAnally.
ANDREW: And I am Andrew DeWolf.
BRIANNA: And I'm Brianna Jones.
JESS: And welcome to Musicals with Cheese, a podcast where I try to get Andrew to like musical theater, and today we have a wonderful special guest, I am so pumped about this. She's the host of It's Lit, she's a YouTuber, she's the associate editor of The Mary Sue, and she's also The Prom truther – Princess Weekes.
PRINCESS: Someone’s gotta do it! Hi guys, thank you guys so much for having me. I’m so excited.
JESS: Bree, add applause, add applause, add applause here – like, everyone's applauding.
JESS: Standing ovation. I'm so glad that you're joining us. And this is our last episode of 2020. This is - we got to wring this out.
PRINCESS: I mean, did you start with Cats? Because what a way to do the year. I mean –
JESS: I think we did, now that I think about it.
ANDREW: It was a bad omen, I told Jess if we do Cats first, there's gonna be a plague or something. And here we are.
PRINCESS: And then -
JESS: But you know what we gotta do to honor the end of 2020?
PRINCESS: Oh, god. Are we gonna have a prom?
JESS: We're gonna have a prom. We gotta build a prom for everyone.
ANDREW: Yeah, Jess –
JESS: But Andrew, you're not allowed to go. It's just me, Princess, and Brianna. You're not allowed. You can have your own little prom if you want to, Andrew.
ANDREW: See, you're doing it all wrong. You're supposed to tell me that there is a prom, and then tell me that it's in the school gym, and then you go off to some casino and do it there.
PRINCESS: Right, some lodge.
ANDREW: Yeah. And then I then I walk into the school gym with all my friends like James Corden and Ellen DeGeneres or whatever.
JESS: And Jimmy Fallon. And Jimmy Kimmel.
ANDREW: Yeah. All my friends.
JESS: “All my talk show host friends.”
PRINCESS: No one cast besides James Corden deserves that, okay? That was cold.
JESS: This week we're talking about the Prom. Cue the music, Bree!
(Time to Dance plays)
JESS: Alright, now time for the history before we can go freeform. The Prom is a musical with music by Matthew Sklar, and lyrics by Chad Beguelin, with a book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin. It premiered on Broadway November 15, 2018, and ran for 309 regular performances and closed on August 11, 2019. It was nominated for 6 Tonys and won none of them, sadly. And the plot of the musical is: It follows four Broadway actors lamenting their days of fame as they travel to the conservative town of Edgewater, Indiana, to help a lesbian student banned from bringing her girlfriend to the high school prom. Alright, so, Princess, you suggested this - before the movie came out, you’re like, “I wanna do The Prom.” So, what's your history with the show?
PRINCESS: Okay, so, a good friend of mine named Joy had tickets to go see The Prom and invited me to go with her, and I had not heard about it besides the Macy's Day Parade where the two leads kissed and that was a big deal. It was like, “Yay, inclusion, lesbians,” and I'm like, “I love inclusion, I love lesbians, that sounds great for me.” And I saw it on Broadway, and I totally get why it did not keep going. It feels very dated and it felt - and we'll get into why it continues to feel dated - but I will say that the young performers were excellent, and I felt like all of the big feels that I was supposed to feel watching it definitely hit from that side of it. It is just, you have to really care about Broadway to get a good third of the jokes, and even though I'm from New York City, I'm working class poor, so I wasn't going to Broadway all the time to know exactly what these awards were besides the Tony, and I know that winning two is a big deal so I'm like, “Okay, Good for you, Dee Dee”. But it was fun. I enjoyed it for what it was, but I am not surprised it did not hit with audiences the way it thought it would.
ANDREW: Now, there's one way that working class poor people can see all these shows...
JESS: Wonder if Netflix should get involved.
PRINCESS: The Library of Congress could just release it all, cus they have copies of it everywhere.
JESS: Wouldn’t that'd be great. But, you're thinking the three-dimensional chess, while we're just still playing checkers over here. (sings) Yo, ho, yo, ho. A pirate’s life for me.
PRINCESS: Oh, the way I saw Hamilton, you mean. Okay.
JESS: The way everyone saw Hamilton for the first three years it was on Broadway. I find this show fascinating and also - I need to put a full disclosure statement out there. Yes, this show and the following movie was produced and brought to life by the person that runs the Broadway Podcast Network, which our show is on - Dori Bernstein. We love her to death, doesn't affect what we're about to say at all. We just wanted to get that out there, just that we have said it.
ANDREW: We are not sponsored.
JESS: I mean, we kinda are. But also -
ANDREW: We are. But not by the show.
JESS: Kids are not controlled, you cannot reign us.
PRINCESS: Your freedom of speech cannot be taken from you.
PRINCESS: This is Indiana.
JESS: This is not America. Not America. Alright, so, I only watched this because the movie was coming out and Princess, you were obviously coming on. And I'm like, “Alright,” and the morning that the movie premiered on Netflix, I watched the bootleg of The Prom on Broadway. And I loved it? I really loved it and maybe it's because I didn't have to get dressed up and go to a theater and be like, “Oh, this is great.” But it was fun, and when was the last time you saw a Broadway show that was just fun like Hairspray 1000 years ago? There was nothing that outright offended me, and I'm in a minority there, there's a couple things that people have issues with and rightfully so, and then the movie tries to fix them, but also they're there for a reason in the show. They're not just pointless, they're to show character development. It's a fun show about people that do wrong and learn a lesson and it gets emotionally palatable. You got a main character with a very well-described personality. It's good. It is high quality content made by people that knew what they were doing. Is it gonna win the Pulitzer? No, but come on. There's got to be something that we can go to and just generally have a good time at. We can't have laughs galore at Hamilton.
PRINCESS: Right. I agree and I think that - you know how the Oscars love to make movies that validate Hollywood or criticize Hollywood and they pat themselves on the back for that?
PRINCESS: I don’t think the Tonys are there yet because it was very much the musical equivalent of that, “We're gonna make fun of this weird Broadway musical culture where the celebrities are not as A-list as you would think, but they have big egos nonetheless and turn that into a feel good thing that people who go to Broadway can enjoy.” And I think that that's something that's worth doing. And I think that, you know, it can feel in 2020 like so many of these messages are so detached from where we are, but the reality is: for somebody out there, The Prom is what they needed to see to feel good about who they were.
ANDREW: I feel like the messages are actually on point, in a way, you know? I think you have to kind of look at it like these rich liberals going to a small conservative town, and then pretending that they're better than them in every way, and not understanding them, and at first that absolutely fails and backfires in their face, but then they learn, like, “Hey we should actually reach out to these people,” and then they end up changing the conservative town's mind in that way, which isn't necessarily –
PRINCESS: So it’s a fairy tale, you say?
ANDREW: Yeah, isn't necessarily the real world works, but I think –
JESS: They don’t change the town's opinion. They changed the children's opinion, which I think can happen.
ANDREW: Yes. And that's kind of what I mean, yeah. By reaching out to the people and not pretending that they are better than them, which is what they do at first and it fails miserably because they're like the - Oh my goodness. The principal's about to change everyone's mind and these... I guess we have to go over the plot, but they show up in the middle of it and ruin everything.
JESS: All right, Andrew. What’s the plot of The Prom?
ANDREW: Sure. All right, so you have - what is it? Four or five? I mean there's two –
ANDREW: There's two very famous - “very famous” in quotes - Broadway actors who are trying to reform their branding because they aren't getting the reviews they want anymore for their shows. And they recruit three other people to come with them to help. I'm sorry, they go on Twitter and they find a cause that they just want to help because they don't really care about it. That's the thing. The point of the show is they don't really care about this cause, they're just trying to appear like they do to gain clout, essentially. And the whole point of the show is they show up to the town and the cause is that a lesbian couple is not being allowed to go to the school prom, which - this is actually based somewhat on a true story, this actually happened, I think in Alabama or something like that, 15 years ago or 10 years ago? I don't remember the case but it was a legal battle so they based it on that. And they show up to help with that cause and at first they end up making everything worse because they're being selfish and narcissistic and they think that they're smarter than everyone else and they could just show up and fix everything. And then they grow as people and they end up actually changing people's minds and the ending is like, “Wow look at us, we're great,” they get their prom, it's fantastic. It’s a fun show.
JESS: And everyone's better off as human beings, learning their lesson at the end than they were at the beginning.
JESS: It's a very white people story. Like, we learn to stop being rich white narcissists and are slightly better rich white narcissist at the end.
PRINCESS: You're welcome.
JESS: We fixed both homophobia and racism. It's Hairspray again. This musical is Hairspray again.
ANDREW: I want to say that they actually put the effort in a little more than Hairspray does, though.
JESS: I mean –
ANDREW: Cus Hairspray’s solving racism was kind of bizarre, whereas this one at least they have to grow as people and solve it? I don't know.
JESS: There's arcs in the story, in Hairspray there isn’t.
ANDREW: Yes, I like this show. I actually do like this show.
PRINCESS: Yeah -
JESS: I feel like –
PRINCESS: Sorry, go ahead.
JESS: No, no. You go, we good. You go.
PRINCESS: The more I hear you guys talk about it, the more confident I feel about talking about what I enjoyed about it, because it's just such a polarizing show. A lot of people who I know are deep into the Broadway culture are like, “It's not this, this, or this,” and I’m like, “I get all of those things.” But as someone who grew up not being able to afford to go to Broadway shows and really wanted to go to Broadway shows to feel something meaningful or moving or to like - you know, as a little queer kid to hear stories about other queer people? The first Broadway show I ever saw as someone who was cognizant of what I was, was when I saw Rent when I was like 16 years old. So, seeing something like The Prom, if I was 16 years old and I saw The Prom, that would change my life. And there is something meaningful about giving a group of people who have access this knowledge, this information, this language, and putting it in a way that they can absorb it, you know? I like it and there's good dancing and there's cute outfits in it. That's what I want from a Broadway show.
ANDREW: It has the most important representation as well, which is my demographic - straight people that like Broadway.
PRINCESS: As the primary love interest as well.
JESS: Well, also, it's an older person. It's an older romance. Of people over the hill, a bit, and I feel like The Prom movie, which we will talk about in detail much later, ruins that very heavily. But I think a lot of what makes a lot of this work is the specific choices made for the Broadway show where they could have made the easy answer and decided to do something interesting. Those small touches built up a lot. From what could have been very generic - like Rent, which is just kind of a mess, for better and for worse - to something very cohesive. It is a very tight script that even the movie can't ruin. And this is one of those rare musicals where just the extreme happiness in some moments is enough to get me emotional. And it's so hard to get super emotional about happy moments. But when you just realize it's something you haven't seen - the girl dancing with her girlfriend at the prom and that being the emotional climax of an entire story, you get emotional. Or a man just taking a girl and telling her, “Hey, tonight belongs to you, we're about to go to prom.” And, like, the excitement about it makes you emotional. And I want to talk a bit about the composers here because they really haven't done much else. They did Elf the musical which I have not seen, I've heard okayish things about. And The Wedding Singer the musical, which I have seen, and is a little bit underrated In my opinion. Just a little bit - not crazy about. The Wedding Singer works as a musical and it didn't get the right amount of love and Laura Benanti as a love interest is the weirdest thing and that didn't work at all.
PRINCESS: Oh man, I have to check that out, cus I actually really like The Wedding Singer. Do they have a Julia Guglia song? Like, is there a song called Julia Guglia?
JESS: There's not a Julia Guglia song, but it is still in the show. They bring in all the songs from the movie, like Grow Old With You, all the Adam Sandler-written songs.
PRINCESS: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
JESS: And they had comedian Stephen Lynch as the lead, which is perfect cus he can both play the comedy side as well as perform. It's a good show that I think came in a very stacked year and just kind of blurred into the background. And this takes everything that worked in that, which is the mean-spiritedish comedy, the genuine sincerity, and a lot of fun dance numbers, and brings it to life here in a way that I think works better than most shows on Broadway. Jagged Little Pill is fine, but my god, none of those dark PSAs called a musical really works if you don't have something you want to say. And this has something it wants to say.
PRINCESS: That's really important.
JESS: I just ranted there. I was on a fucking soapbox.
PRINCESS: No, I was enjoying it. I'm just sitting here with my Godzilla mug, just like, “This guy - he's got feelings.”
JESS: I do got feelings but I didn't expect to have feelings. Remember, I literally saw this for the first time less than a week ago. My initial thoughts on this are very fresh and my initial wounds on other things are very fresh as well.
PRINCESS: Trust me, I watched the movie today, so it would be fresh in my mind. And the entire time, I’m just like, “Oh, oh, oh, okay, we just don't care.”
ANDREW: The movie really ruins a lot of stuff.
JESS: We can't be talking about that too early, we got too much we got to say here. What do we think about the characters overall? Because they bring it down to the Broadway side and the teenage angst side. And there’s two different shows going on.
PRINCESS: So, I think that the teen side to me is the part that I really enjoy. I like that Emma is kind of like a bitter little lesbian, I love that. In the musical, if I remember, she was a more full-figured character too. She wasn't a little petite thing, and I enjoyed that. I liked her short haircut. I wouldn't call that butch, but it was more butch-leaning, and I did enjoy that that kind of representation was happening. I also liked how in the set design for her room was so much personality – like, the posters, she had her little Twilight posters.
JESS: She had her Lady Bird poster.
PRINCESS: I remember all that, even though I saw it a year ago, over a year ago. Because there was just so much about how they packed into expressing who she was and what her aesthetic was. And like, she was so sarcastic. She had a bit of a Daria vibe that I really enjoyed. Like Daria but because everyone really does suck and not just because she's bitter all the time.
ANDREW: She’s in such a bad position.
PRINCESS: Exactly. She was really doing her best in a really chaotic environment. And I feel like Alyssa was very sympathetic as her love interest because you can understand, you know, being a young girl, you love this person, you've been together for a really long time, but your mother is literally the Babadook. You know, she's this scary figure hovering around you, who’s like, “I love you so much, but don't be gay.” And I totally could understand the phobia of wanting to express your love to somebody else, but also having a parent that you love and is your only parent and you don't wanna disappoint them. That was just all realistically done.
ANDREW: That’s just a mean comparison to the Babadook, though. I mean, the Babadook wasn’t that evil.
JESS: I mean, he is an LGBT icon.
PRINCESS: You know the Babadook – I was gonna say, the Babadook is a gay icon. So we shouldn’t talk about him in this conversation. He’s doing the best he can. I felt that - they're the heart of this show to me, and I think that even though the adults have an interesting storyline - and, like, some of them go on a little bit too long - I think that when Emma and Alyssa are on stage, you get the heart of Prom.
JESS: I think it's also important that as me entering in as a non-musical-lover, it’s very obvious from the stage show, Emma has no fucking idea who any of these Broadway people are. This lesbian kid does not give a shit about Broadway.
PRINCESS: Not at all.
JESS: And that's a great dynamic to have, these people that expect everyone to lick their feet, and they're servicing this girl that’s like, “Who are you? Please go away, I don't like a this.”
ANDREW: It recognizes that towns in the Midwest have absolutely no idea what Broadway shows are.
PRINCESS: But also - and we'll get into this later - but that dynamic is also what reinforces the selfishness of the leads - they're always trying to impress upon Emma how important they are, and how they're using her, and it doesn't take until the second part where they actually have a symbiotic relationship where they both actually care about each other, and that helps lead to all those arcs and growth that we appreciate in the second part of the show.
JESS: I also want to appreciate how much Emma is in her skin and loves what she is, and she is not going to change. Like, for the Give It Some Zazz song in the movie, she just dressed up as Smee or something with her striped shirt and her stupid beanie. But in the musical, she’s in a onesie. She's wearing her pajama onesie. And it’s a great gag. And, like, when they force her into a selfie, and she looks like, “Uh,” and that's the photo they use for their promotional -
ANDREW: I think that's the best part of the stage show - is when they're at the monster truck rally, and they flash up her picture and it's her, obviously not wanting to be involved at all.
PRINCESS: Right. Like, “I wanna be excluded from this narrative please. I didn’t ask.”
ANDREW: “I'm not your publicity stunt, I'm not your piece here, I'm going through an actual problem and you're not helping.”
JESS: Right. And it’s those little touches that bring the show to life on stage and if you take them away, what do you got?
PRINCESS: You get The Prom 2020 film, directed by Ryan Murphy.
ANDREW: If there's any issues with the characters, I think it's that there's a lot of actor characters, and really only two of them have any point.
JESS: I don't know. Barry has a good relationship with Emma. I'd say, aside from Alyssa and Emma, her core relationship is between her and Barry and that works really well. Her and her and then you have to have Dee Dee who is kind of the Patti LuPone comic relief, who has a relationship with the principal. Those two are very important.
ANDREW: And those are the two that I think are actually important. And the rest of them are kind of... there.
JESS: I disagree because I think Trent is a very important part of the puzzle piece. The only one I’ll give you is the Zazz lady. The Zazz intensifies. I don’t even remember her name.
ANDREW: What about like the guy that was like –
PRINCESS: Their manager?
ANDREW: Yeah, their manager, he’s just there. I honestly think you could probably cut some of the stuff with Trent. I think he should be there but I think he has too much time, honestly.
JESS: I disagree. I think he has the right amount of time, but if you cut the Zazz scene and what’s-his-nuts - the manager, you've got a –
JESS: Yeah, Sheldon.
PRINCESS: Yeah, I think that's finally his name. I feel so bad because I think with the Zazz lady - I know her name too, I should look that up. I don’t think there's anything necessarily wrong with her role – nah, I’m gonna look it up. Angie, Angie. There's nothing inherently wrong with that character, it's just that they wait so long to give her an actual purpose in the narrative that it's like, “What are we really here doing, guys?” Like, she has great gams, great legs, but like, what else?
ANDREW: I feel like you could take the Zazz number and give it to a different character.
JESS: You could give it to Dee Dee. Give her a relationship with Alyssa a little bit.
PRINCESS: That would be fun.
ANDREW: I don't think she needs to be there, really. I think Trent kind of needs to be there because he has - He doesn't really do anything with Emma, he's more with the townspeople or the kids of the town more so. And he's not there that much, so I guess you don't -
JESS: You can have a tertiary third person that has a fun number. I just think if we focus on Dee Dee, Trent, and Barry, we have a little bit of a tighter show.
ANDREW: I think what muddles it is that there's five characters that feel like they're doing a different show, while Emma's also doing a show, and that's why it feels a little excessive.
PRINCESS: For sure. Because I think even with Dee Dee - and I like the stuff with her in the principal –
ANDREW: I think the stuff with her and the principal was great, actually maybe one of my favorite parts of it.
PRINCESS: I also really like it, but I will say – I know we're not in the song section yet - but I found that in transitioning it from the stage of the screen, his song and his little bit feel even more gratuitous -
PRINCESS: Than they are intended to be. And that, to me, highlights a core problem with the entire thing - is that there are just too many things that they want to define in one musical. The main love story should be between Emma and Alyssa. Having a secondary love story is okay, but it's just a little bit too, “Oh, he's a fan and he loves - ” It’s a little bit too self-involved.
ANDREW: I think the stage show does it better, where they are more defined as a secondary plot and it works fine. But then you get to the Netflix one -
JESS: Traditional musicals do have a secondary love couple. That is not uncommon. I think having it here is effective. However, that being said, the movie bungles it and –
ANDREW: They almost become the primary. Honestly.
JESS: Yeah, but I think it stands out a lot more in the stage show because they are older actors, older performers. So, they feel so decidedly different from Emma and Alyssa that you're not feeling like it's a tug-of-war, it's just something else. Where in the movie since it's Keegan-Michael Key, who is great in a lot of things, just maybe not here, maybe this wasn't your role, my friend.
ANDREW: Way better in The Predator movie.
JESS: I have not seen that.
PRINCESS: I haven’t seen that either. But I will say, I know that they added a little bit more diversity in the film, but the lack of diversity in the stage play also makes Dee Dee and the principal's relationship seem even more part of the narrative because they are an interracial couple. And that gets more attention if you have an environment that already seems very divisive and not really into other kinds of lifestyles, as they put it. That would be something that would be like, “Oh, that's weird that you two are just together,” and all that kind of stuff. It feels more in space of that than it does in the adaptation.
JESS: Well, in the movie, it feels like Mrs. Robinson or whatever.
PRINCESS: Which is weird because Meryl Streep is hot. So it’s really hard for me to be like, “Oh, she's an old washed - ” It's Meryl Streep, I’m like –
JESS: But she’s in her 70s. She is literally in her 70s. Like, I look at - I don't know how old Keegan-Michael Key is, but he is not pushing 50, I wanna put money there.
PRINCESS: Meryl Streep is in her 70s? She can get it though.
JESS: Yeah, she could –
PRINCESS: That’s what I’m saying, I mean, like, in general. But she looks good. To me, I just felt like she doesn't - even though she was great as - I know we're going into the film, I’m so sorry.
ANDREW: Are we going into the film? Is it time?
JESS: No, no.
PRINCESS: Jess has an order. We have to do it Jess’ way.
JESS: Well, how about this? We're using this as a great transition to everyone's favorite segment of the show. It’s where we compare our opinions with those of the New York theater critics when this show came out. It is time for Breeviews, where Bree reads reviews from New York Times theater critics. Now, Andrew. What do you think Ben Brantley thought of the show? Where do you think he falls on the spectrum?
ANDREW: I don’t know. It doesn't seem like a show he would like that much but, honestly, it doesn't seem like a show he would trash. So, I'm gonna say, he maybe gave it mild praise.
JESS: Okay, so let me frame this up before Bree swings this ball - he never reviewed it, so his segment is from a conversation he had with another critic of the New York Times theater department, Jesse Green, who did review it. So, we're going to read a little bit of his review, but I want to take Ben Brantley’s section of this. So, Bree, take it away.
BRIANNA: Taking it away. For our listeners, also, my tongue is no longer stuck to a pole, and I have an eye.
JESS: Yes. That's important.
BRIANNA: Yeah, that is important. We didn't let them know that in the last episode.
JESS: Yeah, we didn't. You’re back to it.
BRIANNA: I’m back to it.
JESS: Everyone was worried, like, “Where’s Bree? How are we gonna survive?”
BRIANNA: You know, sometimes I gotta go. But I can't right now, I have to read. So, New York Times critic, Ben Brantley said, “For me it was the only musical that created and sustained an alternative reality that I love to visit when I'm feeling blue - the world of musical comedy.” And then, in parentheses, two exclamation points. “In which characters seamlessly express themselves in song and dance and find catharsis in harmony. It's been so long since we've seen a show that honored to the conventions of an honorable and venerable form with such integrity and affection without feeling in any way hidebound.”
JESS: Yes, beautiful. Like, Ben Bradley tears shit apart and he said this was the show that deserved to win the Tony in 2019. For Best Musical.
ANDREW: He liked it.
JESS: He loved this show. And do we remember what won that year? Cus I don't –
JESS: Yeah, Hadestown won that year, and I would not have given this above Hadestown. Hadestown is groundbreaking, but everyone's like, “The Prom deserves it.” Like, all the New York theater critics were like, “No, this goes to The Prom.”
ANDREW: Maybe Ben Brantley just likes bubble gum more than he let on.
JESS: I mean, compared to the other original musicals that came out - we got Be More Chill, which I also very much like. I think The Prom is better but I really like Be More Chill; Beetlejuice, which me and Andrew like gush about every other day.
PRINCESS: I love Beetlejuice.
ANDREW: I don’t think Beetlejuice is over. I don't know if it's over for winning an award, though.
JESS: Yeah, probably not. You've got King Kong the musical, but that's a meme at this point; Tootsie, which I think won Best Book and Best Actor? That won more than it should have and that's garbage. That is actual garbage.
PRINCESS: Yeah, we don't need Tootsie in 2019.
JESS: But that was a stacked year. And this still rises to the top among those to be honest and I like a lot of those.
PRINCESS: Yeah, I would say my three of that would be Beetlejuice, The Prom, and Hadestown. Those are my three that I really enjoyed.
JESS: Oh, I have to too, and I feel bad because I love Be More Chill so much. Like, I feel bad that's not in my top three, but it's definitely top four. That's right below them all.
PRINCESS: It’s your honorable mention.
JESS: Yeah, that is an honorable mention. Because there's not enough horror musicals and that's a teen horror musical.
PRINCESS: No, for sure.
JESS: All right, now we're gonna listen what Jesse Green had to say in the proper New York Times review.
PRINCESS: Oh, here we go.
BRIANNA: The New York Times critic, Jesse Green says, “Like a certain cockeyed optimist, you may even note a lump in your throat when Emma finally gets her perfect kiss while the supportive Hoosiers and godless Broadway interlopers cheer her on and sing backup. If that means that ‘The Prom’ trades in some of the same cheesy mawkishness it satirizes, that’s O.K. “
JESS: This is the important part.
BRIANNA: This is the important part. “Cheese has always been part of the American recipe — and rarely hurt the apple pie underneath.”
ANDREW: I told you.
PRINCESS: Love that.
JESS: How often do they mention cheese in a fucking New York Times review?
ANDREW: Not nearly often enough.
JESS: For this show –
PRINCESS: And a flattering way.
JESS: That is great.
PRINCESS: That's good.
JESS: Finally some good New York Times reviews, we didn't have to bring out the Ben Shapiro voice.
ANDREW: Didn't have to bring out the Ben Shapiro voice out, we didn't have to mention rainbow cardigans or anything.
JESS: Yeah, those are two of the better New York Times reviews we've read on the show, like my god. And for a show that deserves it. But we got to talk about some songs. But first, mid-show announcement, let's go shill some stuff. Enjoy these commercials.
JESS: Songs! What do we think of Changing Lives? That is a weird way to open it, because we have a scene and then we have the opening number.
(Changing Lives plays)
PRINCESS: Okay, I don't dislike it. It's just, the hardest part about talking about the music in this musical is that it has now been tainted for me.
JESS: A little bit.
PRINCESS: And I'm trying to detach, but I do think that Changing Lives was a good way of setting up who our characters are, the gravitas through which they give themselves. Like, they really think that they're doing something here. And I think that it's a perfect way of introducing us to who they are, even though I think that it may not be the most musically strong of the score.
JESS: And it is the one with the most controversial dialogue. It has the D slur for lesbian, it talks about eating disorders, which - yeah it's offensive but it's intentionally offensive to show how dumb and misguided these people are. Character-wise, it’s effective –
ANDREW: Out of touch.
JESS: Yeah. It is a character touch but also, it might trigger people and that's not good. I don't like that.
PRINCESS: I think it's a great way of highlighting how they're going to try and liberalize a society, while they themselves engage in slurs and demeaning ways – like, you know, they're like, “Big things don’t happen in Indiana.” I'm just like, “Michael Jackson, though. He is problematic, was from Indiana.” Like, a lot of things have happened in Indiana, and it's not the middle of nowhere.
JESS: There’s a song from a famous musical called Gary, Indiana. My god.
PRINCESS: I was just like - this musical is very mean to Indiana and I’m like, “Is Indiana that bad?” I know it gave us Pence, but, like, there are a lot of things that have come from Indiana.
ANDREW: Indiana has gone through a lot of hard times, I mean it's part of that Rust Belt, where there's no jobs left and a lot of the communities are kind of just rotting away. See, you gotta feel bad for that sort of area a little bit. And that's a lot of the reason why these areas feel resentment towards these type of big city folk - is because they think that these people are who is killing their communities, which isn't true. People killing their communities is gigantic corporations that are moving all the jobs over to China, but they don't see that because they watch Fox News too much.
PRINCESS: Yeah. The call is coming from inside the house for a lot of their communities. And I think that – And I hate to kind of like - I usually have a distrust of things that both sides issues like this because it can feel very disingenuous because then it's not a both sides issue. But I think that the both side is talking about how like celebrities have been taught to perform activism as a way of building their brand. And that is also something worth criticizing because celebrities become the faces of these movements. Like the Me Too movement, you know, Black Lives Matter, and then when it comes up that they're not doing anything, it makes it seem as though these movements aren't really doing anything, because they get so tied to celebrity.
ANDREW: It’s almost not a both sides, it's more of like, “Hey, these people are wrong, but this fake help that isn't really doing anything to improve their communities in any material way is why they aren't changing their minds.”
JESS: How the fuck dare you? How dare you? Getting a bunch of celebrities together and singing Imagine into their phones is the most important thing we can do right now.
(Celebrities singing Imagine into their phones)
ANDREW: That type of thing is exactly – Like, you have these poor families in the Rust Belt who are like, “Where's my jobs? Why is no one helping me?” And then a bunch of rich liberals go on their phone and sing Imagine and now all these people are like, “Man, Donald Trump's the only person who can really help me. Look at all these liberals, they don't care about my community, they don't care about helping me. Only Trump cares.” You know? And that's where we are right now as a society.
PRINCESS: And also minorities, because they also were like, “This is stupid.” Minorities and the Rust Belt communities were also just like, “This is redonk.”
JESS: I mean, were there any people of color in - I'm trying to remember was there any - was it just all white people in that Imagine video? Oh no, Leslie Odom Jr. showed up for a second.
PRINCESS: Yeah, bless, you know, it’s like, he just wanted to sing. We're not gonna be mad at him for singing. That's what he - But I just feel like it is this performative wokeness that gets criticized so much and I think it's hard because when you are someone who is socially progressive and on the left, you don't want to cut down bad-faith activism. You don't want to cut down good-faith activism done clumsily. But it can so quickly turn into bad activism when the people who are in power really are not prepared for the nuances it takes it to do these things and that instantly happens with The Prom, where it's like, you have literally powered this evil through your own ignorance of how to speak to people. Like, just calling them rednecks right off the bat. It's like, that's for the group chat, not for how you’re gonna talk to them in person.
ANDREW: Yeah, you show up and immediately insult them and then they're just gonna be like, “Well, so much for the tolerant left.”
PRINCESS: It's also like, well, now you did it publicly. So now you look ridiculous. It’s like, don't get caught out there. Delete your tweets. Delete your tweet. It's a fun opening number.
ANDREW: Rednecks are working class too, okay?
JESS: All right, let's go on to Emma's I want song - Just Breathe, which - I love this song. This song is just - I love going back to the lesbian subplot from this because we will yo yo a bit.
(Just Breathe plays)
PRINCESS: “Don’t be gay in Indiana” - it's just a great - when done well, when I think about it from the stage show, is such a great way of expressing who Emma was, her sarcasm, her humour, and how she's using both of those things as a shield to protect her in this environment and also as a weapon to stop other people from trying to hurt her. It really tells you through the lyrics, through how it's sung and through the amazing vocals of that actress from the show of how this person is really trying to cope with some really, really hard shit.
JESS: Yeah, and the fact is it isn't easy. It isn't easy for her and she is actively using coping mechanisms and jokes and all that and that's what Just Breathe is - is her being like, “I can't get angry. I can't let this bother me.” And it's Caitlin Kinnunen who played the role on Broadway and she brought, like - no one else could have played that like her.
JESS: And I feel like she could have played in the movie, you know? It's not like they hired someone big and famous. It's not like fucking Willow Smith was in that role, though she could have done pretty good if I think about it, now that I’ve spoken that into the world.
PRINCESS: We will get into all of that because choices were made. I’m very frustrated.
JESS: But, just having her talk to herself and be there and we get to see inside the mind, outside the outer shell, that is such a beautiful moment and the world around her and – fuck, I love this song. The song is great. I can't even think of words to explain why it works so well, but it does.
PRINCESS: It's like a Disney song. It's like the Disney princess song where like, “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere,” like, “I just want to be who I am and I'm tired of this provincial town telling me that I'm weird because I read books.” It's that feeling in a song.
JESS: It is, but it's also not specific. I love it when my I want songs - It still feels very specific, but it isn't. If you actually look at what the lyrics are, it's like, yeah, “Don't be gay in Indiana,” it's an “I don't like” song more than “I want a thing.” It could have just been, like, “I just want to go to prom and do this,” but it's not. It's like, “I hate everything,” which reflects more of who Emma is.
PRINCESS: “Everything around me sucks, but I'm gonna do the very best I can.”
JESS: Okay, I think we've wore that song. Um, I really don't love talking about the Broadway people to be honest.
PRINCESS: We can skip. I mean, this is - we don't have to do that. I can go right to I Want to Dance With You and be happy.
JESS: I do want to talk briefly about We Look to You, Mr. Hawkins’ song about jerking Broadway off. “You are the reason why we exist and love. C'mon, we love Broadway, Patti LuPone, you're the reason why we all enjoy life.”
(We Look to You plays)
ANDREW: Yeah... This one doesn’t need to be in the show.
JESS: It deserves to be in the Broadway show. Because it is pandering to the audience that will go to see it and all that. Um, it's really adorable when you have an older man thinking about the old times of like Evita and –
ANDREW: I think it's fine in the Broadway show. They overdo it way too much in the thing we haven't talked about.
JESS: Yes, the thing.
PRINCESS: And it's also - not to make it even more political, but it's very weird to have an old black man be like, “We look to you, the mostly white stars of Broadway, to guide our lives and help us realize how to be and to be better than ourselves.” I’m just like - It’s like you're watching literally, you watch a Sondheim musical and your entire life was changed, you live in Indiana.
JESS: “Mean Girls the musical changed my life.”
PRINCESS: “I got whipped into shape by Legally Blonde.” And it's not like there aren't older black men that love musicals, but the optics of it are so... they work on the Broadway setting because you're talking to that audience, but as soon as you transpose it out of it, it feels very, like a handjob of a song, you know? Like a very, like, can I say that? Is that too much?
JESS: Of course. Is it a lubed handjob or is it just a dry, “Come on, get this over with?”
PRINCESS: It's very enthusiastic, but it isn't really getting the tempo right. So we're gonna be here all day. So we really need to be in sync together so that this can end at a reasonable time for both of us because we have other things to do.
JESS: Dori Berinstein, put that on the poster. “It's like a handjob, but one that's like not hitting the right places, so we're gonna be here all day – Princess Weekes”
ANDREW: They'll just put out, “It's like a handjob.”
PRINCESS: You fill in how that makes you feel. I'm sorry to the patrons that I came here and I ruined everything with my coarse humor.
JESS: What the - We literally - What's the horrendous joke we just had two weeks ago that Bree had to cut out? We've had bad things, we've said much worse things on this show. Let's be very clear here.
ANDREW: All right –
JESS: I'm not done. I want to say one thing.
JESS: Is it obvious that that show was a white man in Off-Broadway before it hit Broadway and then suddenly a lot of characters suddenly got color to them? Alyssa was a white girl Off-Broadway, the principal was a white man Off-Broadway, there was no people of color, and then on Broadway, they just brought them on in and changed the race.
ANDREW: I mean, that's not a bad thing to do especially when they're very race neutral as characters, I would say. There's nothing explicit -
JESS: There is lines now in the Broadway version that are explicit, which is like, “You're not my usual demographic.” “What, black?” “No, straight.”
ANDREW: Yeah, that was a funny one.
PRINCESS: I mean, I think one of the stronger things about Broadway and musical theater is that it can be color neutral. But I think when you do a political comedy show, who you include in it matters in terms of how themes resonate with the general audience, because like I just said, it is weird that he is a black man making this ode to a medium that is not inclusive towards people that look like him in general.
JESS: I mean, it's getting better lately, like –
PRINCESS: It is getting better.
JESS: Like, I just keep thinking about how much I love A Strange Loop and how that is my favorite musical and I’m like, “I could see me talking to everyone in that musical about how much I love that musical like this man talks to Dee Dee.” Next let's go to Tonight Belongs to You, the Act One closer.
(Tonight Belongs to You plays)
ANDREW: Tomorrow Belongs to uUs?
JESS: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
(Michael Scott’s “No god, please no”)
ANDREW: Is this in reference to that? I feel like it is.
JESS: To Cabaret? I doubt it.
ANDREW: Doesn't a Nazi sing that song? And then this song is about, they’re singing Tonight Belongs to Us, and they set up this whole scheme where they get to go to the prom and she doesn't? Like, I don't know.
JESS: That's a big stretch for you.
ANDREW: Sure. The title of the song is Tonight Belongs to You, Tomorrow Belongs to Us.
JESS: You gotta be Stretch fucking Armstrong with that stretching there.
ANDREW: I think that some people are gonna agree. They're gonna be like, “You know what, that might be intentional.”
JESS: You know, everyone just tweet at Andrew and tell him how wrong he is.
ANDREW: Sure. And I'll tell you that you're all Nazis.
PRINCESS: Well, you know, it's also a song by R&B artist, Jeremiah. So maybe it's a reference to that.
ANDREW: That also might be true.
JESS: That one - I'm with Princess. That's it. Andrew, you're still wrong, though.
ANDREW: Sure. Whatever.
JESS: Enjoy being wrong. I love this song. This is like when I first watched it, the part where I started getting emotional, I'm like, “There's no way this is gonna end happily. But my God, I'm just so excited for this girl to go to prom.”
PRINCESS: Let me tell you - when I saw it in theaters, you know, I'm hyped cus I'm like doing this universal, like, feelings - When I realized what was happening and they didn't let her go to regular prom, I was furious. I was ready to fight on her behalf. I was like, “They did not have Emma put on this gown and fix her hair up and get dressed to punk her like this. This is not 2000, you cannot just punk people with the whole school.” I was like, “Send them to jail.” Emotional distress. And I don’t even believe in the industrial prison complex but send those teenagers to jail. I was like, “They need to go.”
ANDREW: Oh, it's not the teens at fault. It's the PTA -
JESS: Because, basically, the teens were like, “This girl took away our prom.” I get why the teens did what they did.
PRINCESS: I don’t. They have Tumblr. That's the thing that’s really weird to me is that even amongst really, really diehard republicans, being gay is not as – Like, if she were trans.
ANDREW: Well, this actual story took place in 2005 I think. It was either 2005 or 2010. I can't remember.
JESS: If they made it period piece, I think this might have worked. And set in the early aughts –
ANDREW: Maybe? At what time, I think Republicans were a lot more openly – because, really, the republican platform is essentially, “Whatever we can win at right now until it's no longer acceptable.” And at that time, it was acceptable to not like gay people. And now they've moved on and now they don't like trans people.