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William Mason High School’s “The Awesome 80’s Prom”

Updated: Aug 13, 2019

Review by Nicole Magliocco, Ursuline Academy Cappies Critic Team

The small theater doors opened into a room filled with neon decorations, vibrant dresses and teens awkwardly swaying to the beat of Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors," a timeless 80's hit. It was immediately obvious Mason High School's production of "The Awesome 80’s Prom" would be an experience to remember.

The interactive show, crafted by Ken Davenport and first performed in 2004, "The Awesome 80's Prom" was an immediate hit for bachelorette and birthday parties, where the audience was just as integral to the show as the cast. As the show progresses through the night, nine teens vie for the titles of Prom King and Queen, with many amusing campaign tactics and of course, cliché high school drama.

Mason High School's version of the show was perfectly tailored to the audience, engaging, and hilarious. Each actor and actress had a backstory and personality traits, even for those in the ensemble. While several characters had a few scripted lines, most of the show was improvisation and the countless hours the cast spent on refining the technique were clearly evident. The non-traditional stage and lively atmosphere helped greatly to encourage audience interaction.

Two standout roles were Missy, the Chair of the Prom Committee, played by Kara Coffey, and Louis, the Nerd, portrayed by Jason Fish. Missy's type-A antics and thespian background contributed to many scenes and came alive in her "Funny Girl" sing-off with Dickie, the Drama King. Filling another stereotype, Louis, the Nerd delivered an inspiring monologue at the end which truly highlighted the differing emotions and phases of high school.

Among the many named characters, The Russian Foreign Exchange Student, played by Nika Umnov, shone brightly in the dark theater, with her flawless Russian and comical spontaneous storylines. Also displaying great improvisation was Matt Cook, who played the stereotypical high school principal, characterized by his commanding voice and no-nonsense attitude. Cook's detention notes, written on the spot and given to numerous audience members, also caused many laughs.

The setting of the play was quite interesting, and while a bit awkward at first, it created a remarkable show. The stage was wherever an actor walked, with a dance floor and an actual stage rising a bit above it, leading it to be the focal point for a lot of scenes. Another notable technical aspect was the sound, more specifically the Sound Crew, cleverly disguised as the DJ's booth for the prom. Like the DJ, they controlled the music and had to cut the beats at the exact right moments, depending on the scenes unfolding before them.

The immersive experience coupled with the funky fresh vibes of the time made "The Awesome 80's Prom" an exciting show that Mason High School certainly executed well.

Review by Anna Nappi, St. Ursula Academy Cappies Critic Team

There is only one place where big hair, teen rebellion, Madonna, and the captain of the football team all exist in harmony… a high school prom in 1989.

"The Awesome 80's Prom," performed by William Mason High School, was an interactive play that took a look into a senior prom for the Class of 1989. It begins with the nominees for Prom King and Queen being eagerly announced by Melissa Ann Martin or "Missy," the Chair of the Prom Committee. Throughout the night, the characters' personalities are strengthened during freeform periods in-between scenes where the Class of 1989 interact with the audience by gossiping about other characters in the show, discussing their life stories, and even asking audience members to come onto the dance floor with them. The audience had the opportunity to vote for one of the nominees, and whichever characters received the most votes would win the honor of being crowned Prom King or Queen.

Overall, the play was well-executed by the cast and crew. Throughout the performance, the actors displayed excellent improvisational techniques and a vast knowledge of all things 80's. Although the interactive aspect may have been intimidating for audience members with more introverted personalities, the cast handled it well by keeping a keen eye out for people who may not be comfortable interacting with the characters and improvising accordingly.

Missy, Chair of the Prom Committee, was played by Kara Coffey, who did an excellent job showcasing the her character's charmingly obnoxious, and sometimes even competitive nature. From playing Salt-N-Peppa's "Push It" on the recorder to her epic "Don't Rain on My Parade" sing-off with Dickie Harrington the Drama King, Coffey's performance was outstanding. Another notable performance was that of Jason Fish who portrayed Louis Fensterspock, the Nerd. At the conclusion of the Prom, Louis defends his date Kerrie Kowalski, the Spaz, when she is called a nerd by her fellow nominees. Louis gave a heartfelt and beautifully delivered speech in which he reminded his classmates that stereotypes are just how we want people to perceive us, and on the inside, we are all the same.

One of the most impressive aspects of this play is how the actors incorporated bits of humor in every scene and in all the freeform periods in-between. Leah Markvan gave a hilarious portrayal of Trixie Washington, a struggling celebrity impersonator who performed as Madonna for the prom. Joshua Beefarowski, or "Beef," played by Adam Cooper, gave a spectacular performance as the loud football player with no brains who cracked jokes any chance he got. The Ensemble Members of the Class of 1989 also contributed by keeping a light and high energy atmosphere running in the background of all the scenes by ad-libbing funny bits throughout the show.

The interactive elements of the show were enhanced by the crews' contributions. Each individual crew added their own spark of creativity to add to the overall effect of the show. The set crew, in particular, made the room feel like a high school prom in the 80's by using tables and chairs instead of standard rows of seats. The tables and chairs surrounded a big open space which was used as the "dance floor" and towards the front of the room, a small stage was set up for characters to make announcements just like a real Prom.

The 80's were a time of teen rebellion, questionable fashion choices, and huge hairdos. William Mason High School did an excellent job at bringing these elements to life while adding a touch of personal flair through audience interaction.

Review by Elizabeth Volk, St. Ursula Academy Cappies Critic Team

In 1989, Sony Walkmans were trendy, and Nintendo first released the Game Boy. Ronald Reagan ended his second term as president, and George H.W. Bush was inaugurated. Movies like "Batman" and "Field of Dreams" were popular, and "Seinfeld" premiered on television. These all set the backdrop for Mason High School's entertaining production of "The Awesome 80's Prom."

Ken Davenport's interactive show transforms the audience into members of the Class of 1989 attending their senior prom. They dance and mingle with the cast, becoming a part of the romance and drama. The major gossip was Dickie Harrington fighting with Missy Martin for the title of Prom Queen, despite being male. Whitley Whitiker also keeps breaking up and getting back together with her boyfriend, and Louis Fensterspock is ridiculed for being a nerd. Eventually, everyone must vote for the Prom King and Queen, and their choice sets off one of many alternate endings.

Mason's production was driven by the cast's high energy. Whether they were forming a lengthy conga line or honoring a retiring coach, everyone always acted enthusiastically.

As the nerdy Louis, Jason Fish delighted the audience with his balance of being uncool but kind, especially during his passionate speech supporting a bullied classmate at the end of the prom. Kara Coffey as Missy brought charm and hilarity to the production, especially when she played "Push It" by Salt-N-Pepa on the recorder. Her chemistry with Nicholas Krouse, who played her rival Dickie, was brilliant. They traded insults and tried to upstage each other while performing "Don't Rain on My Parade," which was a highlight of the production.

Another wonderful performer was Matt Cook who portrayed Mr. Richard Snelgrove, the harsh principal. He emphasized Snelgrove's coldness by handing out many detention slips and measuring the distance between dancing couples. Also standing out was Leah Markvan as a Madonna impersonator. Her performance was filled with boldness and hilarity. Nika Umnov as the Russian Foreign Exchange Student amused, especially when she got engaged to an audience member. Finally, the entire cast wonderfully kept the audience energized and interested between scripted scenes.

The technical elements of Mason's show also dazzled. For example, the sound crew, led by Jordan Rose and Andrew Aronoff, acted as DJs for the prom by dressing in costume and using period-appropriate technology to play eighties songs. Their work was well-done and integral to the production, for their songs acted as cues for the different scenes and improvised bits. While simplistic, the props, created by Izzy Gronholm and Crew, were effective and period-appropriate. One of the most interesting props was a Cabbage Patch Kids doll that looked like one of the characters. The props crew even gave it a letterman jacket that matched the character's one.

With energetic and hilarious performances, Mason High School's production of "The Awesome 80's Prom" amazed. For ninety minutes, everyone traveled back to the time of Game Boys and Batman. They got to leave the modern world behind and experience the craziness of the eighties.

Excerpts from Top-Ranked Student Reviews

“The show was anchored by leads Missy Martin, played by Kara Coffey, and Louis Fensterspock, portrayed by Jason Fish. Missy, the overly-involved chair of the Prom Committee, was perfectly portrayed by Kara as she sustained the unmistakable competitive and privileged energy that Missy's character brought to the table. Kara involved Missy's full range of emotions, not only during her scripted scenes, but during her audience interactions as well. Jason did a phenomenal job capturing his character's nerdy energy and mannerisms as well as clearly depicting Louis's dynamic shift at the end of the prom”

-Hannah Stansbury, Ursuline Academy

“There was no missing him with his rhinestone suit and plenty of mascara, but Dickie Harrington, played by Nicholas Krouse, was always there to either make fun of the principal or make himself the center of attention. Even though he was put on the ballot for Prom Queen was a joke, Nicholas took his chance and ran. Seeing him crowned as Prom Queen at the end of the night was delightful.”

-Lauren Drew, Taylor High School

“The set design was extraordinary and included brightly painted wall decorations, linen draped tables, and a luminous dance floor. All of the technical features blended together effortlessly, for each one helped to establish the fluid bond between the performers and the audience.”

-Lucy Lawler, St. Ursula Academy

“Cast members were knowledgeable on their characters' backstories and 80's lingo and culture and were very successful demonstrating such. During scripted portions of the show, comments can be heard from the cast that are integral to demonstrating the characters' intentions, beliefs, or just a humorous quip.”

-Kennedy Nadermann, Walnut Hills High School

“The crew truly brought 80's culture to the stage. Sound emphasized the hits of ‘89 with constant hits from the year in the background. This element brought the prom to life. Sound was also used to propel the plot through dance circles. Stage Management had cues that blended seamlessly with the characters. No change in sound or lighting felt unnatural. Notably, at the end of the show, Props even released neon balloons to signal the end of prom.”

-Caitlin Boutwell, Ursuline Academy

“The production, as a whole, was handled deftly by the actors and tech crew alike. The set blended the lines between performers and audience members by allowing the audience to get up on the dance floor and bust some gnarly dance moves.”

-Naomi Stoner, Walnut Hills High School

“The production's unusual interactive aspect completely set this play apart from others. A majority of the twenty-eight personed cast embodied their roles to perfection. Every single persona had unique characteristics, allowing the audience members to dive deeper into the experience. The energy exuded by the cast was contagious and plentiful.”

-Gracie Markus, Campbell County High School

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