“When you’re starting with a completely blank slate, it’s definitely more of a challenge,” admits book writer and lyricist Chad Beguelin. Beguelin and composer Matthew Sklar picked up a 2019 Tony Awards nomination for Best Score (with Beguelin landing an additional nomination for Book of a Musical) for the heartwarming musical comedy “The Prom.” The duo spoke with Gold Derby about the challenges and delights of working on an original musical. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
Beguelin and Sklar were previous Tony nominees for their work on “The Wedding Singer” and their adaptation of “Elf” was a holiday hit, but “The Prom” marks the team’s first Broadway musical which is not based on a pre-existing property. They agree that one of the biggest changes to their process in this regard is many more rewrites. “There’s no template,” says Beguelin, “there’s a lot of sitting in a room just spitballing ideas.”
When crafting the music, Sklar first tackled the sound for the four main Broadway divas who descend on small town Indiana (played by Brooks Ashmanskas, Beth Leavel, Christopher Seiber, and Angie Schworer). Their showtune antics were familiar, and with the performers cast near the start of development, “we knew who we were writing for.”
By contrast, Sklar needed to simplify the sound for the teens at the center of the story, namely Caitlin Kinnunen’s Emma. “The kids aren’t going to sing crazy chromatic and complex chords and melodies” explains Sklar. The main goal for those characters was less razzle dazzle, more heart and emotion. The composer describes finally getting all the actors in the room as “beautiful mayhem.”
That’s an apt description for the raucous comedy in “The Prom,” but ultimately it is a story of love and acceptance. Audiences have responded in profound ways to seeing Emma embrace her sexuality and get the simple gift of bringing her girlfriend to senior prom. “The stagedoor experience has been so emotional and so moving,” confesses Beguelin. The pair receive countless stories from audience members, many of them the same age as the teens portrayed in the musical, who say the show helps them accept themselves and come out. “The representation has definitely meant a lot to these kids” says Sklar.
They have been more pleasantly surprised by reactions from older audience members however, who express that the musical helped change their tune on LGBTQ acceptance. “I hope people take away the fact that people can change,” says Beguelin. Though “The Prom” is on its surface a frothy musical comedy, to these songwriters it represents the power theater has to affect others. “It does change hearts and minds.”
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