With the school year underway, it's a great time to see the incredible talent that's being fostered in our schools with their annual musicals. It's always fantastic to see schools take on bold and challenging work. But there is a point where things can go too far.
Here are two musicals that should not be gracing high school stages for a variety of reasons ranging from content to messages within the shows themselves.
When it comes to theatre, I hate seeing material censored. My view is that you either perform the entire show as written, or don't do it at all. In the four high school productions of Cabaret I've seen, not once has the entire show been performed as it was originally written.
Either the homosexuality is toned down or erased completely, dialogue is changed and complete scenes and songs are cut. If a high school production has to go to these lengths just put on the production, there is no point in doing that particular show.
I've never seen the educational or entertainment value for a high school to attempt Cabaret. It's an incredibly dark story line to begin with a depressing finale, although most high schools soften it a bit.
If the only reason why high school directors choose this piece is so they can have their students perform such iconic songs such as "Maybe This Time" or "Willkommen", feature them in a musical revue. If they want their students to be introduced the works of Kander & Ebb, there are plenty of works in their catalog perfect for high school audiences such as Steel Pier, Curtains, Woman of the Year and the less risque Chicago.
I mentioned this in a column a while ago but it occurred to me that high school theatre directors really need to start paying attention to messages in their productions. I talked about how when you look at Oklahoma! from the perspective of the character "Jud", it becomes a musical about bullying someone with a mental illness to the point they lash out violently.
Another musical that has a dark message, is Grease. The show is performed annually in area high schools all over the country. But when closer looked, I can't understand why.
In Grease, Sandy has a summer romance with a boy named Danny. Upon returning to school Sandy gushes about how wonderful her summer was while Danny describes her as the biggest slut ever, to his friends. When they meet later in the day, Danny pretends not to know her so he can look cool in front of his friends because she obviously doesn't live up to the description he told them, cue Sandy heartbreak #1.
Later in the act, Sandy arrives at a picnic in the park only to see that the entire cast has been making fun of her("Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee"), Danny once again shrugs her off and Sandy leaves the picnic in tears, cue Sandy heartbreak #2.
In Act 2, Sandy stays home from the prom and sings about how she still inexplicably loves Danny despite the horrible way he's treated her. But she finds enough courage to go to the dance only to be ignored by Danny, who is too busy celebrating winning a dance contest. Cue Sandy heartbreak #3.
Further along in the show Danny takes Sandy on a date, hiding from his buddies the entire time and basically attempts date raping Sandy. Cue Sandy heartbreak #4.
The show ends with Sandy making the decision that she needs to completely change herself in order to fit in and be accepted by the boy she loves. She does this and now Danny can proudly show off his new and improved girlfriend and Sandy is finally accepted by her "friends".
In high schools all over the country, students are already feeling the horrors of peer pressure and struggling to accept who they really are. But don't worry kids, this year your school is putting on a production that says if you simply change yourself, you'll get the boy/girl and have all the friends you could ever want! Shoobop sha wadda wadda yippity boom de boom!
High School theatre is obviously meant to educate and inspire students to become interested in getting involved. However, when schools select these productions, they must be sensitive to the fact that family members of all ages are going to come to these productions to support these students. They also have to be sensitive to what messages these shows promote as well.