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Illinois Wesleyan Alum’s Golden Globe Nomination Meets The Current Cultural Moment

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The musical made its world premiere at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia in 2016 and premiered on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre in October 2018.

An Illinois Wesleyan alum’s work is up for a Golden Globe for Best Picture (Musical or Comedy). The movie “The Prom” is based off Bill Damaschke’s Broadway musical comedy of the same name.

The musical received seven Tony nominations and won a Drama Desk Award for Best Musical. “The Prom” is about a high school girl in a small Indiana town who just wants to go to the prom with her girlfriend. There is conservative resistance and she gets help.

Damaschke said the show meets the current cultural moment.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJ0jBNa6JUQ

“While it does reflect the moment that we live in, it's also somewhat timeless. Whether it's black and white or left and right, or blue and red, there's always different points of view around lots of different topics,” said Damaschke, who graduated from IWU in 1985. “But we live in a period of time where those are incredibly heightened. So our goal in telling the story was to make a story that felt universal and timeless.”

There is tension in pinning a comedy to an issue that has been a cultural flash point. If you hit the social issue aspect too hard, the show can seem preachy or fall flat. Damaschke said the movie’s goal was to satirize both sides of the story.

“That's what we've lost. The ability to ... laugh at ourselves, and everything is taken so seriously,” said Damaschke. “There are many more things that make us similar than to make us different.”

The musical premiered in 2016, went to broadway in 2018, now it’s a Netflix original movie. In recent years LGBTQ film and TV has proliferated, though a lot of it still focuses on LGBTQ characters' status as other as the turning point of the piece.

Damaschke said “The Prom'' is an ensemble piece. All of the characters are going through struggles at various points in their lives.

“There's certainly the struggle of a girl who wanted to take her girlfriend to the prom, but there's also people who've lost a sense of what their purpose in the world is,” said Damaschke. “I think it kind of tries to not be just an LGBTQ story, which is a really important story to tell, but also a story about community, family and the families we have and the families that we choose.”

Damaschke said he isn’t sure when the world or America will be ready for a different version of that kind of story, but he feels encouraged by the openness to the story. 

What made Damaschke want to tell this story?

Damaschke is the oldest of seven children, and he grew up in Chicago. Damaschke said his family has a variety of different political views. 

“They're all good people and they're all really smart and thoughtful. They all vote and do the things that they do for the same reasons that we all do, which is they care about our country. They want to make the world a better place,” said Damaschke. 

Damaschke said “The Prom” is at its heart a story about a lot of people who think they're doing the right thing and how that can go terribly wrong. 

“I do think that there's a lot of that in the country right now. There are a lot of people who are just fighting for what they believe is right, and that doesn't always line up with what other people are fighting for or against,” said Damaschke.

Damashke said the producers of the movie tried to do it in a way that was respectful to the other points of view and the story.

“I think sometimes film projects get made that are so one-sided in their point of view that the audience that they could really have an impact on never actually ends up experiencing them,” said Damashke.

 

Not every Broadway show translates well to a movie. Damaschke said “The Prom” has a great combination of the big spectacle made up of actors and Broadway, and then it has the grounded, real-world town in Indiana.

“I call it the peanut butter and the chocolate. It's these two things that you can’t imagine together, but then you think, ‘That's so great.’ I feel like that's what made it good for a movie because the human side of it really works and you really connect to the girl's story,” said Damashke. “Then you have the theatricality and the fun, bigness of the Broadway side of the story as well.”

Damaschke said Illinois Wesleyan contributed to “The Prom.”

“There’s that idea of finding your tribe and going to school for theater and for music at Wesleyan and what it kind of nurtured and pushed in all of us is a big part of just who I am,” said Damaschke.

Winners will be announced at the 78th Golden Globe Awards show that airs at 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28, on NBC.

“The Prom” was StoryKey Entertainment’s first award-winning musical, followed by “Moulin Rouge” in 2020.

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