“I’ve learned a lot about my own power,” declares Caitlin Kinnunen of her experience in the new Broadway musical “The Prom.” Her increased sense of self confidence mirrors the confidence her character Emma finds in the show. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
In “The Prom,” Emma is a high school student who just wants to take her girlfriend to the prom. But closed minds in her small town in Indiana cancel the dance rather than allow a same-sex couple to participate. The story makes headlines and grabs the attention of a quartet of vain, out of work Broadway actors who swoop in to save the day… and gobble up some positive PR.
Kinnunen reveals that she initially auditioned for the role of the girlfriend Alyssa (currently played by Isabelle McCalla). That part was originally written as a typical blonde cheerleader type, and Kinnunen knew right away “I’m not this character at all.” But director Casey Nicholaw was captivated by the actress and had her read for Emma. She landed the role and began a four-and-a-half year journey, from workshops, to an Atlanta production, and finally to Broadway.
Kinnunen was drawn to the “realness” of Emma right away. While teenage roles are often soaked in stereotypes, this one was crafted with a sense of honesty. “She’s vulnerable, and strong, and independent.” The raw honesty and emotion is most obviously on display in Emma’s ballad “Dance With You.” Arriving towards the beginning of the show, Kinnunen admits it’s “the hardest number for me” because she has to be at a 10, vocally and emotionally. But the actress admits it is a joyous experience to sing because “it’s a beautifully simplistic and straightforward love song.” The simple desire to dance with her love ends up carrying Emma through the rest of the show.
Joining Kinnunen on the journey are Broadway veterans Beth Leavel, Brooks Ashmanskas, Christopher Sieber, and Angie Schworer as the diva actors. “They’re hilarious in real life but even funnier on stage,” says Kinnunen. “It’s so difficult to keep a straight face” but the actress has learned “so much about comedy and power, and not having fear on stage” from her experienced co-stars. “Every day is a master class,” according to Kinnunen.
One of the most rewarding aspects of performing in “The Prom” is the ways in which the show connects with LGBTQ youth. Kinnunen says she receives an “overwhelming” amount of responses from teens who weren’t accepted by family, or who weren’t allowed to attend their prom just like Emma. It reached a fever pitch when the cast performed on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and Kinnunen was at the center of the first lesbian kiss ever featured on the broadcast. It was a strange feeling to watch anti-gay hate pour in online, but Kinnunen reflects that “for all the hate and backlash, we got ten times the amount of love and support.”
Love and acceptance are the messages “The Prom” is broadcasting according to the actress. She is glad that the show might make people have conversations after leaving the theater and listen to a different point of view. “I think it’s important to be working on pieces that say something,” she adds.
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