“Original musicals are my favorite thing to do,” gushes Tony winner Casey Nicholaw. He won a Tony Award for directing the Broadway smash “Book of Mormon,” and earned his 11th Tony nomination for this season’s big-hearted original musical “The Prom.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.
Though he has had great success with film-to-stage adaptations like “Aladdin” and “Mean Girls,” Nicholaw gravitates towards original works for the freedom they provide. “You don’t have any guidelines,” he says, “so you can kind of go wherever you want.” So when producer Jack Viertel called him with an outrageous idea for a show where vain Broadway actors invade a small mid-western town to help a young lesbian in need, Nicholaw simply thought “Wow, that’s a fun premise” and dove in.
The dueling tones of the narrative proved the most difficult aspect of the show to nail down. In the initial lab production, Nicholaw admits, “It was all the broad musical comedy tone, and we realized that was not working.” Through countless conversations and re-stagings, Nicholaw guided “The Prom” to a place where the four diva actors live inside the broad comedy, but the small town characters are played ultra realistically. That way “the musical people were invading something that was foreign to them.”
This dichotomy is perhaps best exemplified in the relationship between Barry (Brooks Ashmanskas) and Emma (Caitlin Kinnunen). Barry is effeminate, narcissistic, and lives loud and proud. Emma is the reserved girl he is trying to help go to prom with the girl she loves. Between the obvious comedy that results from their opposite personalities, there is a tender friendship that forms as two different generations of queer people mentor one another. “Brooks brought so much warmth to it,” admits Nicholaw. “We knew Brooks was going to be funny, but we had no idea he was going to be so grounded.” The organic evolution of their relationship during the show’s development process is one of the reasons Nicholaw loves working on, and being surprised by, new musicals.
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