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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Guns, gays, suicide, smoking ... The show may not go on after all

Can a high school put on Oklahoma without guns? The Theatre Guild at an Ann Arbor (MI) high school revised the classical musical days before opening night to minimize the use of prop guns, reports Ron French for Bridge Michigan. The changes allowed the show to go on.

Curly (Tatiana Wechsler) wooed Laurey (Royer Bockus) in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's gay reimagining of "Oklahoma" in 2018.

An Ohio school board threatened to cancel The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a popular school musical, because of profanity, mockery of Jesus Christ and a character with two gay fathers, reports Elizabeth Blair on NPR.

One of the 2005 musical's writers, Rachel Sheinkin agreed to a make wording changes to save the show. For example, "good lord" became "good grief" and a number of "damns" were cut. However, the gay dads stayed, and Sheinkin refused to change lyrics that showed one character thought he wasn't smart and another was a bully. The Cardinal Schools board, which had wanted more upbeat characters, agreed.

School musicals and plays are being canceled or rewritten to avoid gays, racial issues, suicide, addiction, murder and other themes deemed inappropriate for teenagers, reports Hannah Natanson in the Washington Post.

Censorship of student theater isn't new, but some say school boards are more worried than ever, especially about LGBT characters and content. Of course, there's a lot more gay and transgender characters and content than in the past.

Credit: Kristy Caldwell

A "gender-bending, patriarchy-smashing" version of the Robin Hood story (he's really Maid Marian and the Merry Men are mostly women) was nixed in Indiana.

Indecent (prostitutes and lesbians) was stopped in Florida and James and the Giant Peach (cross dressing) in Texas.

The Addams Family is too dark and gloomy, a Pennsylvania school board decided, citing references to killing, smoking and self-harm.

An Iowa district halted August: Osage County, saying it was inappropriate for teenagers, writes Natanson. The play "features an implied suicide, incest and drug addiction, as well as racist treatment of a Native American character."

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (murder, cannibalism) was rejected in Wisconsin for not being "family friendly."

Mamma Mia! (unwed motherhood) topped the list of most produced high school musicals for 2021-22, with The Addams Family in third place. New to the list is The SpongeBob Musical.

Many schools put on short musicals adapted for "junior" audiences: Disney's Frozen JR. was most popular followed by Roald Dahl's Matilda: The Musical JR. and Disney's The Lion King JR.

The most produced play was Clue, followed by Puffs, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Almost, Maine.

I remember seeing Annie Get Your Gun as a child. I loved it. But between the guns and Indian stereotypes I suspect it was canceled decades ago.

Our high school did Oklahoma in 1968 (or so). I loved that too. I'd guess "Ali Hakim" has been de-Persian-ized for modern audiences.

I appeared in the Putnam County Spelling Bee -- off-Broadway, I think. They asked for audience volunteers to play extra contestants. I kept spelling words correctly. They had to give me a made-up word to get me off the stage.

1 Comment

May 04, 2023

A similar thing happened at a teen production I attended (in which my daughter was made one of the contestants). One audience member kept getting more and more right (including the full spelling of LSD). Finally, in frustration, a judge said "The plot requires you to get this one wrong. Spell 'there/their/they're'" Contenstant: "Can I hear it in a sentence?" Judge: "No"

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