April 30, 2023
Next up at SpeakEasy Stage is the Boston premiere of the funny, feel-good, musical with a message, “The Prom.” With music by Mathew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and a book by Beguelin and Bob Martin, “The Prom” tells the story of Emma, a student in a conservative Indiana town who unhappily finds herself in the headlines when she says she wants to take her girlfriend to their high school prom. The school’s PTA flies into an uproar and promptly cancels the event — for everyone.
Meanwhile, halfway across the country in New York City, Broadway actors Dee Dee and Barry — self-absorbed narcissists— are suffering through yet another flop show. This one, a musical disaster about Eleanor Roosevelt, is so awful, it closes on Opening Night.
To save face, divert attention and revitalize their images, the two self-involved colleagues plot to adopt a “cause” and draw attention to themselves while appearing to be selfless and caring.
Dee Dee and Barry learn of Emma’s plight via the internet and vow to make her their next seemingly noble project. The two bumbling has-beens take off for Indiana to barge in and shine a spotlight on the outrageous injustice involving Emma. And if the spotlight just happens to shine on them, too, so be it.
“The Prom,” winner of the 2019 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical, will be presented by SpeakEasy from May 5 to June 10 at The Calderwood Pavilion. SpeakEasy’s Founder and Producing Artistic Director, Paul Daigneault, directs the production.
The show debuted on Broadway in 2018. In 2020, Netflix created a film version starring Meryl Streep, James Corden, and Nicole Kidman.
Headlining the cast at SpeakEasy is Boston’s own Mary Callanan as Dee Dee. Appearing opposite her as Barry is the award-winning Boston actor Johnny Kuntz.
Johnny Kuntz, Abriel Coleman, Mary Callanan, Liesie Kelly in “The Prom” at SpeakEasy Stage. Photo by Nile Scott Studios
Mary has built a solid career for herself starring on local stages (Lyric Stage, SpeakEasy, North Shore Music Theatre and Trinity Rep) as well as appearing on Broadway (“Annie,” “Mamma Mia!” “Bandstand”) and in several national tours (“My Fair Lady, “Bridges of Madison County” and “Damn Yankees”).
In addition to her stage work, Mary is also an in-demand cabaret artist in New York, Boston, and Provincetown. When performance venues were shuttered during the pandemic, Mary and Brian Patton, her cabaret partner of more than 30 years, created their own shows by hosting live, weekly zoom performances from Brian’s living room. Titled, “Tipsy Tuesdays,” the popular virtual evenings of show tunes and the Great American Songbook were accessible via Facebook.
Mary and I spoke recently between “Prom” rehearsals. Here’s an edited look at our conversation.
Q. You’ve worked with so many prominent actors and directors and choreographers. Have you ever crossed paths with an all-consuming, real-life Dee Dee?
A. I actually have worked with (“The Prom’s”) original Dee Dee, Beth Leavel! But she is certainly not a Dee Dee (herself), just a “Tony-nominated Dee Dee” . . . I’m going to say even with the very big “over-the-title” people that I’ve worked with, I’ve never actually met a real, full-blown, 100 per cent, famous Miss Dee Dee, I’m happy to say. It’s nice when you meet your idols and they are just as hard working and as lovely as you hoped they would be.
Q. So, in “The Prom,” what makes Dee Dee tick?
A. Dee Dee is all about Dee Dee. Dee Dee is there for DEE DEE. During the course of the show she (changes), but when we meet Dee Dee, Dee Dee is a very hard-working career-driven, prototypical narcissist. "It’s nice to meet you. What can you do for me?” And it’s not even “nice to meet you.” It’s “Hello there, what can you do for me? And what was your name again?”
She is just after fame and staying on top. She has worked real hard to get where she is. Even though her last however many shows were flops — phenomenal flops! — she just craves celebrity. It’s all about her. It’s literally all about her.
Q. Your partner in crime in “The Prom” is played by Johnny Kuntz. As two Boston talents, you’ve known each other for a long time?
A. I loooooove Johnny. We’ve never worked together but we’ve known each other all these years. We actually worked together in a box office, but that doesn’t count. He is an absolute delight . . . And the fact that it’s the two of us playing these crazy, wacko narcissists is hilarious, because he is the most loving person.
Q. Knowing each other as you do must cut down on that awkward meet-and-greet period and allow you to get right down to business.
A. That’s what I’m counting on. (Laughs.) I certainly know his brand of humor and he knows mine. Even though we’ve never worked together, that does, in fact, help a lot. We’re already 30 yards ahead. So that makes it good.
Q. SpeakEasy Stage has earned a remarkable reputation, among both audiences and performers. I know you just appeared at their annual fundraising gala. What makes the company so special?
A. I think it’s Paul [Daigneault]. We quote-unquote grew up together. Not literally. He started that company — we’re all more or less the same age — and he wanted a different kind of theater menu, if you will. He didn’t want to do the same old shows that everybody was doing. And he really wanted to direct. And he wanted to direct pieces that spoke to him personally.
I think his path has been nothing short of astounding. What he’s built in this town! And the people he surrounds himself with, the talent, the creative, the managerial. It’s a wonderful place to work . . . He’s collaborative, that’s another good word I think of when I think of Paul. He’s not an autocrat. It’s all about collaboration with him. And I really enjoy that.
Brian Patton and Mary Callanan perform during virtual “Tipsy Tuesdays." Photo by L. Finlayson
Q. Tell me what prompted you and Brian Patton to launch your Tipsy Tuesday parties?
A. Everybody was scared and alone in our homes. And then Brian called one day — it wasn’t too long into it — and I said “Hi” and he said "I was thinking…” and I said “Yes!!!” And he said, you don’t know what I was thinking, and I said, I’m hoping you’re asking if I can come over and we can just sing . . . It was great fun because it was just he and I, doing he and I, which is how it all started many, many years ago. And, yes, we knew there were people on the other side of the camera, but we were pretty much just doin’ it for us . . . We’d do it, and I’d leave because there was still a global pandemic. It was nice to read the comments on the way home — people were so happy about it . . . We were doing it because it made us feel better, and we thought it would maybe make ten of our friends feel better. It really went much further and wider than that. When I see people now, they say the nicest things. Like, you got us through it. It made us feel normal . . . And so that really made us feel good. Who knew? We did a good thing.
Q. And on that note, you’re off to Prom.
A. (Which is) HELLO! an original-bold type-underscored-italicized-original show! . . . It’s a wonderful story.
“The Prom,” SpeakEasy Stage. May 5 to June 10. Info: 617-933-8600 or SpeakEasyStage.com.