‘The Broadway stars aligned’: Tony-nominated actress visits Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Caitlin Kinnunen meeting with the cast and crew of Stoneleigh-Burnham School's production of

Caitlin Kinnunen meeting with the cast and crew of Stoneleigh-Burnham School's production of "The Prom." CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY SAGE ORVILLE PHOTOGRAPHY

Stoneleigh Burnham's head of school, Laurie Lambert with Caitlin Kinnunen.

Stoneleigh Burnham's head of school, Laurie Lambert with Caitlin Kinnunen. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY SAGE ORVILLE PHOTOGRAPHY

Zoë Naughton-O'Connor a junior at Stoneleigh-Burnham School, listens to Caitlin Kinnunen speak to the cast of

Zoë Naughton-O'Connor a junior at Stoneleigh-Burnham School, listens to Caitlin Kinnunen speak to the cast of "The Prom." CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY SAGE ORVILLE PHOTOGRAPHY

Caitlin Kinnunen with Stoneleigh-Burnham School's cast and crew for

Caitlin Kinnunen with Stoneleigh-Burnham School's cast and crew for "The Prom." CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY SAGE ORVILLE PHOTOGRAPHY

By LIESEL NYGARD

For the Recorder

Published: 01-26-2024 12:41 PM

In preparation for their upcoming musical performance of “The Prom,” students at Stoneleigh-Burnham School visited with Tony-nominated actress Caitlin Kinnunen.

“The Prom” is based on a real story from the early 2000s, where four Broadway actors help Emma Nolan (played by Kinnunen), a student from a Midwestern high school, after hearing that she couldn’t take her girlfriend to prom, because the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) opposed the idea.

“[The PTA] goes up in arms about it,” explained Liz Vollinger, director of “The Prom” for Stoneleigh-Burnham. “They are very homophobic and very against gender expression.”

When Vollinger announced that Stoneleigh-Burnham was going to stage “The Prom” last fall during an all-school meeting, a parent who said they worked with the original cast of the musical offered to contact Kinnunen.

“I was kind of stunned that all of this was happening,” said Vollinger. “While standing next to me he sent a text off to the original cast … and Caitlin was like ‘absolutely sign me up.’”

Kinnunen visited the school last week and met with the cast of 25 students to provide advice for the musical.

“[Kinnunen] is a very real person,” said Drew Roberts, a senior at Stoneleigh-Burnham who plays Principal Tom Hopkins in “The Prom.” “There was no fear in speaking your mind on how the process was … the entire environment was very comfortable.”

After meeting with the cast, Kinnunen gave an interactive speech with all of the students at Stoneleigh-Burnham, mainly discussing mental health.

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Zoë Naughton-O’Connor, a junior at Stoneleigh-Burnham who plays Broadway star Trent Oliver in “The Prom,” said the speech was “very vulnerable,” noting that Kinnunen spoke about “raw experiences” and described ways to “uplift yourself.”

“It was one of the most vulnerable times I’ve felt in such a large group of people,” said Naughton-O’Connor. “I felt so connected with [Kinnunen] that I look up to so much and I felt so connected to the people next to me and even the people across the room from me.”

“I think she was great and probably exceptional,” added Bett Altar, assistant head of school at Stoneleigh-Burnham. “But it took an audience that was willing and brave enough to engage.”

The cast for “The Prom” has been working on the musical nearly every day since the fall, and intends on presenting their roughly two-and-a-half-hour performance in mid-February.

“We picked ‘The Prom’ for the messaging because it’s so Stoneleigh-Burnham,” said Vollinger. “I truly believe this is the best fit for us … I think we’re doing pretty good with it, the stars have aligned.”

“The Broadway stars aligned,” Naughton-O’Connor added.