The University of Maryland’s theatre, dance and performance studies school opened its rendition of The Prom, a celebration of queer identity and overcoming adversity, at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on Friday.

The musical centers around four fading Broadway stars. In an attempt to regain relevance, they shine the spotlight on Emma Nolan, a lesbian in small-town Indiana who is met with backlash for wanting to take her girlfriend to the prom. The Broadway personalities make it their mission to help her have the prom of her dreams, not allowing any parent-teacher association to stand in their way.

Senior theater major Jordan Embrack played Dee Dee Allen, an egocentric and lively Broadway veteran. Embrack’s performance was truly enthralling, especially when she sang. However, she worried that her character might be deemed unlikeable by audience members due to her over-dramatic nature.

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“One piece of advice that our director Nathaniel gave was to play the role authentically and to never judge your character, because theater is a reflection of society,” Embrack said.

People like Dee Dee Allen exist in real life, and it’s possible that the character resonates with certain audience members. To see Dee Dee’s character development, the audience must witness her entire journey, including her self-centered start, which Embrack executed authentically. 

During the performance, audience members were treated to comedic moments that provided a buffer between moments of despair. Jokes came in the form of quick, witty remarks and hilarious musical numbers.

The moment Emma finds out her entire school organized a separate prom to exclude her was heart-wrenching and phenomenally portrayed. The emotional whiplash from the comedy’s contrast was jarring but extremely effective.

Gab Ryan, a senior journalism and theater major, portrayed the Fosse-obsessed former Chicago star Angie Dickinson. 

“I hope that the biggest thing that we’ll be able to evoke is reflection, change and, ultimately, love,” Ryan said.

The production value of this performance was what truly brought it to life. The set pieces were detailed and well-thought-out. One stand-out detail was the posters boygenius and MUNA posters in Emma’s bedroom, both of which are beloved groups in the queer community.

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Bailey Hammett, a theatre design graduate student at this university, designed the costumes that took the show above and beyond. 

From colorful prom dresses to eccentric Broadway performer outfits, Hammett had many exciting creations. She said she feels a deep connection to the show, having grown up as a queer person in Alabama.

“I feel really connected to [Emma’s] story and having to hide and just wanting to be who you are,” Hammett said. “I just honestly want people to leave the show feeling more love in their heart and more kindness to other people.”

The end of the musical was the most captivating part of the entire performance. Exuberant dancing, flashing lights and beautiful smiles of the cast radiated from the stage and brought everything together. All in all, The Prom cemented a message of hope, resilience and unapologetic queer joy.