by Mo Brady
Behind any successful pair of stage partners is a collaboration between artists. In navigating the plot of a show, performers must have a person they can rely on to give them the support and motivation they need to tell the journey of their character. While this necessity is obviously true of leading characters, when it is applied to ensemble roles it can make their performances feel just as truthful as those headlining the story.
Two of the most vibrant ensemble characters in Broadway’s new musical The Prom are Kaylee and Nick. Both students at James Madison High School in Edgewater, Indiana, they work as foils for leading lady Emma (played by Caitlin Kinnunen). However as played by Becca Lee and Teddy Toye, the characters are not simply antagonists, but fully conceived characters.
At the beginning of the show’s story, Nick and Kaylee start as well-meaning but sheltered students. As a high school jock and captain of the cheerleading squad respectively, their empathy for Emma grows, in part, thanks to a visit to Edgewater by four well-meaning, but bombastic Broadway actors.
Part of the reason Nick and Kaylee feel so lived-in is that actors Lee and Toye have been collaborating on The Prom together since 2015. Working together since the musical’s first lab in 2015, they have been building their characters - and the relationship between them - through the musical’s run at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta and its pre-Broadway workshop earlier this year. While the role of Nick didn’t come along until the 2018 lab, Lee and Toye have been playing dance partners and prom dates in the show since 2015.
“We’ve been lucky enough to work on this show together for a long time,” says Lee and Toye. “So the more we’ve gotten to know each other, the more well-rounded our characters have become on stage as a pair.”
That’s not to say that the roles haven’t been developed since the show’s first lab. “Kaylee used to be called Mandy, but the character has remained the same,” reveals Lee. “The writers thought the name Mandy was a little outdated.”
The role of Nick went through significant changes more recently in the show’s development. “Nick didn’t really exist until the latest version of the show,” admits Toye. “His promposal to Kaylee at the beginning of the song ‘You Happened’ was a change made after the musical’s out-of-town tryout in Atlanta.” “Since that song is new, it’s clear that the ensemble role Teddy created had some influence on the lyric,” adds Lee.
This longtime collaboration between Lee and Toye has influenced some of the show’s staging as well. The Act II song “Love Thy Neighbor” includes one of the team’s favorite “Easter Egg” moments: “Nick and Kaylee are standing together after a tambourine dance section. Kaylee starts miming a fake tambourine and tells Nick she wants one for her birthday and Nick emphatically tells her absolutely not! If you look for the silly argument happening onstage, you will find it.”
In both small interactions and major plot moments, Toye and Lee’s partnership has shaped not only their performances but their personal lives as well. “Over the years, we’ve become really close friends,” they say. “We’re really comfortable around each other and that certainly helps create a more organic feel when we’re on stage.”