IVCC’s ‘The Prom’ tackles social issues with humor, music – Shaw Local

The director of Illinois Valley Community College’s “The Prom” said the audience’s reaction to the musical during its opening weekend has been “overwhelmingly positive,” even if the beginning is a bit jarring.

The audience, as he described it, became invested in the characters and he recounted a moment every actor fears, and that was when the audience went completely silent at the end of Act 1.

“They are devastated by the end of Act 1, that’s the word they have used,” Director Don Grant Zellmer said. “Last Thursday, the back flow and the lights came up, people were surprised at how Act 1 ended.”

After the initial shock from the “crickets,” the cast asked Zellmer what happened. He replied, “they hate you guys.”

The next night the cast received a few “boos” and the actors high-fived each other behind the curtain because they knew they were getting their message across.

“The Prom” will be back on IVCC’s stage 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $22 for adults, $15 for ages high school and younger.

The central story of “The Prom” is based on an actual event, when a high school prom in Mississippi was canceled because a senior honor student asked to bring her girlfriend to prom, according to a news release.

“That, however, is where the reality part ends,” Zellmer said. “The musical’s creators built on that, and created a wild storyline that begins in New York when four ego-fueled and unaware Broadway actors – whose show opens and closes on the same night – decide to become ‘celebrity activists’ to repair their images. They travel to conservative, small-town Indiana (where the story was relocated) and make the situation go from bad to hilariously worse. The combination of these two worlds colliding skewers – and has a lot of fun – with the entire spectrum from ultra-conservative to ultra-liberal, with unexpected and side-splitting results, but common ground is discovered by a love that unites them all.”

“The Prom” features Matt Valle, Tracey Childers, Natalie Verucchi and Jake Jakielski as the four Broadway stars. Valle recently returned to the area following a long career on stage both in Los Angeles and Chicago, and the others bring professional credits with them as well.

For the subject matter that this play deals with, you would have to be dead inside not to cheer for the heroes of this story.

—  Don Grant Zellmer, Illinois Valley Community College director

At the center of everyone’s attention are the high school seniors, Emma and Alyssa, played by IVCC students Zoe Starkey and Lexi Johnson.

“You’ve got the collision of two completely different types of cultures, the far, far left Broadway activists and deep red Indiana. And both sides get skewered quite a bit,” said Zellmer.

Both sides fight throughout the production to find common ground and to accept one another despite their differences in a world seemingly meant to tear the two apart.

Starkey, who plays Emma Nolan, said she believes the audience resonates with Emma, because “it’s cruel regardless” and Emma has the courage to not care what people think.

“I think it opens up a lot of people’s eyes because we have an older community and I think it opens people up to this side of the community,” she said. “It’s important to showcase modern problems in a way the community is able to understand.”

By the time, the finale comes, the audience is cheering once again.

“Frankly, for the subject matter that this play deals with, you would have to be dead inside not to cheer for the heroes of this story,” Zellmer said.

Zellmer said as a director he approaches this type of subject matter with a great deal of caution and freedom.

The production portrays the truth of the internalized struggle members of the LGBTQ community face every day, as well as the bullying. However, it also showcases the internalized homophobia and the struggle Emma’s classmates have to accept her as she is.

Valle, who plays Barry Glickman, said any story is worth telling and with the reputation of superhero and villain stories it’s nice to be a part of a production that brings together new voices.

“Not many stories like this exist in the world at all, let alone the specific community that it has,” Valle said. “It has the potential to have a great deal of impact for those watching it.”

Zellmer said he hopes the production is making an impact locally and encouraging people to listen to one another.

“I just feel like this show is resonating with people, which is a reflection of how divided the country is because this show presents both sides on a collision course and how both sides gain understanding in spite of or because of the collision course,” Zellmer said.

“It kind of allows everybody to take a step back and go maybe we should listen.”

Online reservations for the show also are available at www.ivcc.edu/theatre, or may be purchased the date of each performance at the box office beginning one hour prior to showtime.

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