Thursday, September 18, 2008

High School Musicals, Part 3: Dancing in Women’s Underwear . . . ?

Midway through The Wedding Singer, my thought was “This would be such a fun show to do in a high school. Too bad it can’t be done.”

It’s a myth that old Broadway shows were purely wholesome entertainments. I once saw a great regional production of Oklahoma! with a group of teachers who had grown up loving the movie. They were more than slightly surprised by some of the lyrics in the stage version. In the old days, though, when schools did shows like Oklahoma! or The Pajama Game, they could easily look to the film adaptations for guidance on how to incorporate alterations to make the show appropriate for their students. The lyrics were already changed by the original creators for the movies, so there was no danger is adapting those changes.

My college directing teacher told us that you could get away with taking out the swear words, but really, anything other than that, you were legally out of bounds. She taught us to respect the work of the playwright, to honor their intentions, and that if a show in its entirety wasn’t right for your actors or your audience, then it was best to pick another show.

When I saw The Wedding Singer, I knew there was no way for a high school to do the show without severely damaging the integrity of the piece. Here was a show with instant name recognition for the audience, with really catchy songs, and loads of laughs. Plus, kids would love the retro 80s factor. The Wedding Singer really would be a blast for high school students to tackle.

But from beginning to end, there’s too much material not appropriate for high school actors. Songs incorporate the f-bomb, strippers, drugs, and sexual practices. A major plot element involves a character waking up to wonder if he’s had sex with a woman he doesn’t love, not to mention her seduction of him the night before. And what would a high school do with a gay character like George (who, in song lyrics, dances in women’s underwear and professes not to like women at all).

I’ve also wondered what high schools will do with Hairspray. There’s not much inappropriate in the stage version, but there are lines about kids with condoms, a lesbian phy ed teacher taking advantage of her students, plus a few other devious lines here and there that would give administrators cause to wince. If you can easily leave a line out, that’s not so bad for a high school director to do, but to take on rewriting dialogue or lyrics is crossing the line. Hopefully, when it is licensed, the writers will provide equitable solutions for high school directors to use.

With the exception of a big, challenging show like Les Miserables, I don’t think most high school directors would opt for a “School Edition” or “Jr.” production of a show. High school directors generally do aspire to make a great show, and while “Jr.” productions are great for middle schools, to do a The Wedding Singer Jr. at a high school would be beneath most students and directors (though, there is an audience for high schools doing High School Musical, so what do I know?). The creators could re-write a PG-rated The Wedding Singer, but that would just be cheap. There’d have to be too many major changes (as opposed to changing a line of dialogue or a lyrics here or there).

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is another show that has the potential to be a heap of fun at a high school that would simply not work for a high school to produce.

Maybe that’s why the most common new shows to make it to high school are Seussical and Beauty and the Beast. They can actually be done at a high school.

the Broadway Mouth
September 18, 2008

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