The musical The Prom, Ryan Murphy’s version, was an attempt at tackling larger scale issues of the LGBT+ community; however, the gender stereotypes embedded in it slowly took away from the message. The musical starts off with four broadway stars: Dee Dee Allen, Barry Glickman, Trent Oliver, and Angie Dickson, who all attempt to clear their name by working for a cause. They travel to Edgewater, Indiana, where a prom is being canceled as result of a teenager being homosexual. Emma experiences intense bullying by her peers as they place items in her lockers with notes and hold a private prom, not including her. Eventually, in the end, there is a school prom with everyone and the main characters all end up in a relationship they were longing for, like Barry and his mother, Emma and her girlfriend (Alyssa), and Alyssa and her mom. However, as all of this is taking place, the four broadway stars still find a way to make every situation about themselves. The storyline and the casting of actors causes the scenes to not reflect Emma and her hardships. Although the musical The Prom was intended to tackle the issues striking the LGBT+ community, stereotypes are built into the formation of Barry Glickman and heteronormative belief is proved to be dominant.
First and foremost, the character Barry Glinkman was created based off “gay” stereotypes. He was excessively flamboyant, loved shopping, used hand gestures majority of the time, and had a feminine touch to his clothing. Barry’s mannerisms and affectations took away from the relatability of him and further caused a disconnect. The reason why these stereotypes were generated were due in large part to the choice of casting for the role. Barry Glinkman was played by a heterosexual male, James Corden. Corden tried too hard to seem as though he was homosexual that he ended up just perpetuating the common stereotypes following gay men today. Also, he brought no real-life experience or pain into the role. Corden could not relate to his character or the struggles the character would go through. This is shown when Barry and Emma’s grandma are at the dining room table, and he says “I left before they could do that,” before they could kick him out. While saying this, the pain in his voice is not there. His voice is more high pitched, and he tries too hard to incorporate certain mannerisms. The issue was, in real life, he has never had to come out to someone and does not know the fear of doing so. Furthermore, James Corden picked the moments he wanted to be more flamboyant, raise his voice, and emphasize a hand gesture. It wasn’t built into the character’s personality, and when this happened, it took away from the message each scene was trying to convey. An example of this is when Barry and Emma are in her living room talking about his prom and her prom. He flashes his hand out when he says, “And I promise you are going to have the night of your life.” At night and life, he moves his hand out in a downward pattern that emphasizes those two words. Personally, I saw this part as unnecessary and ultimately distracting. I was paying more attention to the bad acting and the stereotypes going on then Emma’s story. After Barry says that, he starts to lean back on the couch and asks what her date is wearing. It looks as though he “forgot” to do a hand gesture because he jolts his arm out quickly and stops leaning back into the couch just to do that. These gestures weren’t natural, and they were also based off how people think a typical gay man behaves and should behave.
The lyrics and the choreography in Barry Glickman’s two main songs, “Barry is Going to Prom” and “Tonight Belongs to You”, continously demonstrate “gay” stereotypes in Emma and Barry. In the song “Barry is Going to Prom,” he says “who cares if you’re just a big old girl,” which in my opinion is just a very interesting line to begin with. It places Barry in this feminine light and plays into gender norms. It defines the way Barry acts and things he is passionate about as girly, and by him calling himself a big old girl, he is essentially saying that everything he does is what a typical woman should do and a man should not. Also, after that line, Barry states “Just get into that gym and twirl.” This once again shows a “gay” stereotype as it highlights that a homosexual man has to have twirling and lyrical moves as their form of dancing. He can’t just be in there and dance anyway he wants to; the character has to verbally express the idea held as standard and then go and demonstrate it. Throughout this song, Barry is prancing around on his tippy toes and doing over the top movements with his arms. He throws both out to the side high in the air as he moves in a more jazz style. An example of this is when he sticks his head out of the top of the limousine. As he belts “the prom,” he throws both hands up and to the side. He places an emphasis on certain words, where his hands move out and down to convey that. Following this part as he exits the limo, he does a salsa move as he says the big old girl part. A lot of these moves are dramatic and try to emphasis that Barry is gay. I will emphasis once again just because the writers of The Prom wanted Barry to be gay does not mean they needed to do these over the top motions since it reinforces stereotypes. In this scene, the directors also had Barry and the younger version of him be in completely different suites compared to the rest of the crowd. It accentuates the belief that gay men must be into fashion as their costumes were more thought out and fashionable.
The song “Tonight Belongs to You” incorporates stereotypes about both Emma and Barry. The song begins in a scene where Barry is taking Emma shopping, which defines two standard beliefs that gay men like fashion and lesbian women do not, and a lyric example of this would be when Barry states “you can borrow all my makeup.” Emma is asking Barry for advice on how “to sell it,” and Barry is telling her how to flirt. It seems as though Emma does not know how to act or flirt because she is lesbian, which was conveyed due to the lyrics of the song. From the very minute the song starts, Corden’s choice of hand gestures for Barry becomes apparent. This is shown when he shuts the car door. He doesn’t just push the door in; he instead has all of his fingers lined perfectly next to each other and pointed up as he elegantly pushes forward. As he looks through the dresses, he pushes them with his middle finger, ring finger, and pinky all pointed up. His thumb and pointer make a circle and flick. Nothing was normal about the movements he was doing as they seemed forced and unauthentic. Another important part of this scene is when Barry and Emma are looking at the shoes. Barry is throwing pair after pair behind him as he sees a better shoe, and then when Emma tries them on, she walks like a statue. Barry is the one looking for shoes; the one interested in something fashionable, unlike Emma again. Also, it makes me question the reasoning behind making Emma not know how to walk in heels. Is it because she’s lesbian and they want her to be seen in a more tom-boy manner? Or is it because she has never had the opportunity to wear them before and just simply never learned? These elements of questioning once again distract me from the plot of the musical.
Overall, the musical had the grounds to accomplish way more than it did. The backstory of Emma was on the path to that but ended up being overcrowded by the gender norms and stereotypes displayed. With a better casting position for Barry, there would have been less controversy and more focus on important messages. This wasn’t all to do to James Corden though as the lyrics and choreography did emphasize these. The stereotypes of how a gay man should act, dress, and talk only redefined how a typical male and female should behave.