Prom Queen: The (Mega) Musical

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This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

The Segal Centre’s latest mega-musical celebrates teen spirit, family, and a Canadian milestone for gay rights.

In 2002, 17-year-old Marc Hall invited his boyfriend to his high school prom. His Catholic school in Oshawa, Ontario, declined Hall’s proposed guest on the grounds that homosexuality is incompatible with Catholic teaching. With support from his parents and friends, Hall took the Durham Catholic School Board to court, sparking a controversial case that questioned how the religious freedoms guaranteed in the Canadian Charter should be applied to a school receiving public funding, and about queer rights at a time when same-sex marriage had yet to be recognized in Canada.

After two days of hearings, Justice Robert MacKinnon issued an injunction allowing Hall to attend the prom with his boyfriend, remarking, “Mark Hall is a Roman Catholic Canadian trying to be himself. He is gay. It is not an answer to his section 15 Charter rights, on these facts, to deny him permission to attend his school’s function with his classmates in order to celebrate his high school career.”

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The legal battle and its result inspired a documentary (Prom Fight: The Marc Hall Story), a TV movie (Prom Queen: The Marc Hall Story), and now, Prom Queen: The Musical.

Producer Mary Young Leckie has made a career as a social justice storyteller, covering topics ranging from environmental conservation to Canada’s residential schools. “It’s something that really drives me as a producer,” she explains. “Marc’s story has lots of fun stuff in it, too, though. It isn’t just about the social justice aspect.”

Leckie was approached about a movie version of Hall’s story shortly after the court case. She was initially interested because, although she was familiar with the Catholic moral stance against homosexuality, she was “shocked that that was still the case in 2002, because I thought the world had moved past that. But I was really captivated by Marc – he’s an inspiring young man.” Leckie felt a connection to the Hall family and began exploring the story and how it might be told. “At first, I thought it was going to be a really serious kind of social commentary, and then I realized that it is a world of teenagers.  What they want to do in their last year of high school is to have fun at their prom. [Writer] Kent Staines and I thought, ‘This has got to have joy in it.’”

Staines and Leckie worked to develop a new treatment for the musical, rather than basing it directly on the movie, because “although the story is the same, you’re emphasizing different parts than you necessarily would in a [documentary]or a film.” Next came the work of finding the right lyricist and songwriter; the producers auditioned almost a dozen different teams over three years.

“We went all over the map with it,” says Leckie, auditioning everyone from seasoned musical writers to pop musicians, and landing on emerging young artists Akiva Romer-Segal (lyrics) and Colleen Dauncy (music). “Colleen and Akiva are not that far from their high school experience,” says Leckie. “They had the pop music and the musical theatre chops, and they remembered their prom well enough to really capture its joy and the excitement.”

Casting a musical set in a high school also offered the opportunity to discover emerging talent. To mine fresh, talented, young faces, the producers worked with Shawn Cheesman, choreographer and judge of So You Think You Can Dance? “We needed some solid ringers for the chorus, but [Cheesman] was looking for people who could dance character dances,” explains Leckie, “people that could sing, act, and dance a character that the audience would fall in love with.”

The so-called mega musical is about to hit the stage in Montreal: “The Segal has put a fabulous budget behind this. The sets and the costumes, and the music, and the live performers – it’s a big cast with a live rock/pop band – it’s a big deal.”

The film version came out in 2004, but it has taken 12 years to make the leap to stage. “The one thing that Kent and I worried about when it took such a long time to get this musical together was, ‘Maybe it won’t be relevant anymore,’” says Leckie. “I think we exist in a bit of a bubble in the entertainment business, and we thought that the whole world was like us. And then when the shooting happened in Orlando, I was like, ‘Nothing’s changed yet. Or not enough has changed.’ And hopefully this musical will help that.”

What kind of audience does Leckie imagine for Prom Queen? “I hope everybody comes out to see it!” she laughs. “It’s a beautiful story about a family’s love and acceptance of their differences. And it’s touching and poignant – it’s the first time he’s told his parents that he’s gay, and his parents are coming to terms not only with that but with the kid leaving home to go off to university. And then there’s [romantic]drama. And there are parts of Marc’s story that we didn’t reveal in the movie that are going to be revealed in the musical. Beyond that, it’s a bit like Grease: the kids want to get dates, they want to look fabulous and go to their prom and have a blast.”

Prom Queen: The Musical runs at the Segal Centre ­October 27 to November 20. www.segalcentre.org

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

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About Author

A lover of words, literature, music, and culture, Clark makes her home in Montréal where she enjoys going to libraries and museums, playing flute, guitar, and ukulele, and sewing and DIY projects. She is currently a freelance writer and translator. / Passionnée de la culture et surtout des mots, de la littérature et de la musique, Rebecca Anne Clark habite à Montréal où elle aime aller aux bibliothèques et aux musées, jouer la flûte traversière, la guitare, et l'ukulélé, et aussi la couture et le bricolage. Elle est actuellement écrivaine et traductrice pigiste.

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