The barrier-breaking new show, “The Prom,” claims to feature the first lesbian couple to ever front a Broadway musical. And while fictional, the creators say the story was inspired by real-life events — and a real-life politician.
“The Prom” centers around Emma, a 17-year-old high school student whose small Indiana town cancels its prom after Emma tries to bring her girlfriend, Alyssa, to the event. Chad Beguelin, the musical’s co-writer and lyricist, said the idea was sparked by theater producer Jack Viertel, who kept encountering similar stories in the news.
“He had seen several instances where, you know, same-sex couples were banned from their prom,” Beguelin told NBC News. “The depressing thing is, they keep sort of happening … Every once in a while a few months will go by, and then someone will email us another, you know, high school that decided that no gays or lesbians can come to the prom. You know, it's sad that it still happens.”
Beguelin said an additional source of inspiration came from an unlikely place: Vice President Mike Pence. He said he especially wants those, like Pence, who are not known to be proponents of LGBTQ rights, to come see the show.
While Pence has recently been criticized by LGBTQ advocates for, among other things, speaking at an anti-gay group's conference and not mentioning the gay community on World AIDS Day, his reputation for being opposed to LGBTQ rights goes back to at least 2000. Perhaps most notably, however, Pence gained national attention in 2015 while governor of Indiana for signing into law a controversial religious freedom bill widely viewed as anti-LGBTQ.
Beguelin extended a personal invitation to Pence, saying, “I think you really need to come and see ‘The Prom,’ and also, we set it in Indiana because of you.”
“Our show isn't about ostracizing people,” Beguelin added. “Our show is not about telling people, ‘You are wrong.’ Again, it's about listening and empathy and accepting, and so my invite [to Pence] would just be like, ‘Listen to our show. It's about love.’”
Caitlin Kinnunen, who plays the show’s central character, Emma, echoed Beguelin with her own message to Pence: “Come see this! You need it,” she said.
“I honestly want everyone to see this, and I want everyone on both sides of the spectrum, or all sides of the spectrum to see it,” Kinnunen told NBC News.
Beguelin, who is openly gay, acknowledged that not everyone is on the same page when it comes to LGBTQ rights, but he said he believes “The Prom” has the ability to not just entertain but to also change hearts and minds.
“We get so many people that after the show come up to us and say, ‘You changed my point of view,’” Beguelin explained. “There are some people that are like, ‘I was that homophobic parent, and I didn't know what the show is about, and now I've really got to sort of reexamine my point of view.'"
Vice President Pence did not immediately respond to NBC News’ inquiry as to whether he might accept the invitation of Beguelin and Kinnunen.
Pence, however, has a rocky relationship with Broadway. He made headlines in November 2016, shortly after the presidential election, when he went to see "Hamilton." Amid boos from fellow theatergoers, Pence received a nearly two-minute lecture from one of the actors, who implored Pence to "work on behalf of all of us."