Broadway Songwriting Duo Performs Greatly With “The Prom”
In 2010, producer of Broadway and Encores! Artistic director Jack Viertel came up with an idea for a musical. What if four narcissistic New York actors took to a small town in Indiana to help a 17-year-old lesbian high school girl who is prevented from taking her girlfriend to prom? Diva performers, who think they know it all, are convinced that their good deed will bring good results and save their young careers. But instead of helping, the actors more or less make a mess.
At the time, Viertel was working with prolific director / choreographer Casey Nicholaw, (Bad girls, Disney aladdin, Elf, The Book of Mormon, The sleepy chaperone), on some projects. So he presented his idea to Nicholaw who fell in love with the possibility of this show of collision of worlds. âI said ‘I’m in it!’ recalls Nicholaw. “I saw the potential of these two different worlds and how cool and fun the situations could be.”
But the show was not only rich in comedic possibilities. Inspired by several stories of same-sex couples banned from attending proms, Nicholaw saw how the musical can be filled with emotion and humanity. Viertel and Nicholaw also knew the ideal songwriting team that could bring the perfect blend of heart and humor into the songs: Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin.
Step back to the ’90s. Beguelin, a hopeful writer who was mentored at New York University by drama-writing titan Doug Wright, sent his screenplay to Andrew Barrett. At the time, Barrett was the literary director of the Musical Theater Works music incubator. Although he was rejected, Beguelin was unstoppable. âI was really desperate to become a writer. So I answered him and asked him, ‘Can I take you to lunch and take some notes on my script?’ The moment they met Barrett said, ‘I’m re-reading your stuff and I really like it. But you need a collaborator.
Meanwhile, Matthew Sklar, a virtuoso musician, who sold his first song to The Mickey Mouse Club when he was 14, was conducting the music for a NYU production of Divine spell. Barrett approached Sklar after the performance saying, âI really like what you did. Do you write musicals? Sklar’s response? “I’m dying, but I have no one to write with me.” Barrett therefore had the ideal solution.
Beguelin and Sklar had their first meeting at the Astor Riviera cafÃ©, since closed, opposite the public theater. They felt an instant bond and a creative connection. âI remember immediately being comfortable talking to Chad,â Sklar said. “And we were both very hungry to write.” They also had similar tastes in music and theater. âI thought Matt’s music was beautiful and amazing. We also have similar personalities, âadds Beguelin.
They estimate that in the last twenty-five years they have probably fought twice in total. “And by fight I mean I shut up and Matt asks, ‘What’s wrong? “Beguelin shares.” We’ve both undergone enough therapy to be able to have creative conversations, even conflict, without taking it personally. “
Not only were they hungry, Musical Theater Works had a slot available to put on a musical in three months. Suddenly they were musical theater writers with a production in New York City. “It all happened very quickly,” Sklar says of their Odipe-inspired book. Wicked city which took place in the 1940s. âWe didn’t know you weren’t supposed to write a musical in three months. But we did it because we didn’t know any better. This first guerrilla writing experience was invaluable to the duo. They saw that they could create quickly and harmoniously.
In the twenty-five years since that first meeting with the Astor Riviera Cafe, Sklar and Beguelin have written several Broadway musicals, including Elf and The wedding singer. (Separately, Beguelin wrote the book and co-wrote the lyrics for Disney aladdin.) They have received several awards such as the ASCAP Richard Rodgers New Horizons and the Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation Awards. Outside of Broadway, their shows have been produced all over the world, from Japan to Australia to Sweden and Argentina. Between them, they were nominated for eight Tony Awards, five Drama Desk Awards and one Emmy.
So let’s come back to Viertel and Nicholaw. When they decided to go ahead with the musical called Prom, Viertel suggested that they bring in the home run team that worked with Nicholaw on Elf: Chad Beguelin, Matthew Sklar and writer Bob Martin. Nicholaw did not hesitate. âMy answer was ‘Yes!’ Nicholaw shares. “And they wrote it down pretty quickly.”
From the start, Sklar and Beguelin were won over. When they first met at Viertel’s office to talk about the show, they immediately knew it was a great idea for a musical. âIt was one of those ideas that could be hilarious and funny,â Sklar shares. “But the startling discovery along the way is how touching it is.”
Sklar and Beguelin especially liked that these Broadway actors, known to be egotistical, could infiltrate a city thinking they could change their mind. âBut in fact, they learn to be better people,â says Beguelin. They also loved bringing up a topic that was close to their hearts, exploring the reason for all this fear. “It’s just a girl taking another girl to the ball,” observes Beguelin. They point to the song “Dance with You” and the lyrics “I just want to dance with you”. “It’s such a silly little thing for all these people to get upset,” Beguelin adds. âThis song is so simple and honest. The problem is, what is the problem? “
Prom stars Beth Level, Brooks Ashmanskas, Christopher Sieber and Angie Schworer as the Broadway Divas. The plays were written especially with them in mind. Josh Lamon is their press secretary. Caitlin Kinnunen and Isabelle McCalla are high school lovers. Michael Potts is their manager and Courtenay Collins is one of the moms. The show was nominated for seven Tony Awards, including nods for Beguelin and Sklar. And Ryan Murphy, one of the musical’s many fans who has seen it multiple times, recently announced he is adapting Prom for a Netflix movie.
Beguelin and Sklar continue to be so blown away by the response to Prom. They describe how young people often approach the actors in tears at the stage door. Some of them share: âThis is the first time that I have seen myself and that I see myself on stage,â says Beguelin. Or they’ll say something like, âI’m in the closet. My mom is there and I’m going to talk to her about this musical. You just made it easier.
As Sklar adds, it’s not uncommon to hear, âI wish I had this show and this casting album when I was a kid. It would have made me feel less alone. They get it at all ages. Indeed, after seeing Prom Chasten Buttigieg tweeted “This show will save lives.” Prom Brought him back to when he was growing up as a gay kid in a Midwestern town. âI feel like we’re doing something good for the world,â Sklar says. “And it means so much to us to do this with musical theater.”