Tuesday, September 16, 2008

High School Musicals, Part 2: Hey Mom, I’m a Hooker in the School Play!

I never knew how I could send my drama kids home to tell their parents they were hookers in the school play. When I was directing high school plays, my kids wanted me to do Les Miserables (and it wasn’t even being licensed yet), I just could just imagine the following scene:

Virginia: Mom, mom, I got a part in the school play!

Mom: How exciting, honey. I’m so proud of you. What’s your character?

Virginia: I’m a hooker!

Mom: A hooker . . . ?

Virginia: And I don’t even need a costume. My director said everything you bought for me to wear to school this fall will work just fine.

Mom: I find that very offensive. We were going for Pussycat Dolls.

Okay, so the conversation I imagined didn’t exactly go like that (and I always had the “True Love Waits” kids auditioning for my plays, so this really was fictionalized), but I am curious how parents react to their kids being in Les Miserables. I tried to see a high school production just to see the cuts that were made, but it was sold out. Still, a prostitute is a prostitute, and that’s an odd thing to tell your mother you’re playing in the school play.

Yes, times have changed. When my mom was in high school in the 1960s, they did a musical revue where “’Cause no one wants a fella with a social disease” in “Gee, Officer Krupke” from West Side Story got changed to “’Cause no one wants a fella who doesn’t say please” (my mom never addressed why this song, of all songs from that show, would be selected for inclusion in a high school musical revue, but I say no judgments). How different is that from the current era, where kids get heckled on MTV for not having sex. Now that lyric is so outdated because we’re getting more inclusive than in the 1960s; too many kids have social diseases not to be. Take that, Stephen Sondheim.

I have an acting copy of My Sister Eileen (which was the source material for Wonderful Town). There are 4.25 pages printed in tiny print, titled “My Sister Eileen for High Schools.” It’s the authors’ suggestions for making the play acceptable for high school productions.

Some highlights:

1st Man: (Delightedly.) Another dame! Look, Pete! There’s two broads—one for you too!

1st Man: (Delightedly.) Another dame! Look, Pete! There’s two dames—one for you too!

Wreck: “I’m a rambling wreck from Georgia Tech
And a helluva engineer—
A helluva, helluva, helluva,
Helluva engineer—“

Wreck: “I’m a rambling wreck from Georgia Tech
(Follow with indistinct humming).”

And there are, indeed, some lines that get omitted for sexual overtones. In the high school version, it seems like Violet really is a rumba teacher (as opposed to being a prostitute), Wreck and Helen were actually married secretly (instead of just living together), and there are cuts like:

Lonigan: I found him in the alley, with all these bed-clothes. I think he’s some kind of sex nut!

Lonigan: I found him in the alley, with all these bed-clothes. I think he’s some kind of nut!

But maybe kids in the high school version of My Sister Eileen took matters in their own hands like my kids did during the final performance of The Pajama Game.

There’s a comedy bit at the picnic where womanizing Prez tells Brenda that he’s taking her to get another beer. She protests that the refreshments are opposite from where he’s pulling her. They disappear off stage left, then after some dialogue between Babe and Sid, Brenda walks back on stage straightening her clothes, saying to Babe, “Stay out in the open, honey, don’t get down in them woods.”

In that final performance, I almost died when I saw my Brenda re-enter the stage buttoning up her top, followed by my Prez zipping up his pants. And my Prez came from a very conservative family. It was hilarious because they actually did it, but at the same time, I was mortified that it looked like I had directed them to do it.

the Broadway Mouth
September 16, 2008

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