The kids at Herriman High School in Utah had already spent months rehearsing for their 2013 production of the Elvis-inspired musical "All Shook Up" when the complaint came in: An anonymous parent was upset about the show, saying that it was too sexy for high schoolers to perform. Even though it had been approved a year earlier, Jordan School District officials cancelled it on Wednesday, saying that it didn't conform to newly revised community standards.
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"What was communicated to us, they were upset with sexually explicit language and some other aspects of the play," Jordan School District spokeswoman Sandy Riesgraf told the Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday. "What they deemed cross-dressing."
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The 2004 musical is a mash-up of Elvis Presley songs, plot points from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," and the 1984 movie "Footloose." The gist is this: Set in the 1950s, bad-boy guitar-playing hottie Chad roars into a tiny mid-western town on his motorcycle, straight out of prison. He's looking for a little excitement and, after finding none, teaches the locals how to party. The town's conservative mayor, Matilda Hyde, long ago outlawed tight pants, public kissing, and loud music; she blames Chad for the sudden surge of immoral behavior and wants him to leave town for good.
The unnamed Utah parent's problem may be with Act 2, in which tomboy heroine Natalie dresses up as a guy named Ed in order to get closer to Chad. In disguise as Ed, she asks Chad how to woo a woman (set to the song "A Little Less Conversation") and the two end up kissing. By the end of that scene, Chad realizes that he has feelings for his buddy Ed, but doesn't know why or what to make of them. Meanwhile, the town beauty, Sandra, falls for Ed, not knowing that it's Natalie, and tries to seduce Ed/Natalie while singing "Let Yourself Go." (Sample lyric: "Just put your arms around me real tight/Enjoy yourself, Baby, don't fight.")
After re-reading the script, administrators decided that "there were some aspects of play that could be offensive to some under our new revised policy," Riesgraf explained. "We want our drama to be a great experience not just for our students but the theater-goers. We don't want to offend anyone."
"All Shook Up" has been performed by other school districts and in community theaters in Utah as recently as July 2012 without any problems -- students at nearby Brigham High staged a production in 2010 -- and parents involved in the Herriman High School production said they didn't see anything offensive about it.
"I'm at a loss," Jill Fishback, whose daughter is part of the play, told the Salt Lake Tribune. "They're singing Elvis songs. A girl dresses up as a boy and kisses a boy. ... It's not promoting homosexuality. It was supposed to be a farce."
"We started in September," her daughter, sophomore Kat Fishback, said. "It was not a secret. Everyone knew about it."
A day after canceling the show, school officials came up with a compromise: They'd ask the copyright holders for permission to edit the script, so that it could conform to the new community standards.
"One song will be eliminated and a couple scenes will be rewritten," Steve Dunham, a district spokesman, told the Salt Lake Tribune. "I don't know the exact [song]. It's not the song 'All Shook Up.' "
"The bottom line with Elvis's music is that it makes a lot of people very happy, even 50 years after it was recorded," Joe DiPietro, who wrote "All Shook Up," told Theatricalrights.com in an interview. "And I thought, what other type of entertainment form does that? And that's when I came up with the Shakespeare comedies, which are very much about love and finding your joy, marriage, passion and all the good stuff of life. That combination was, I thought, potent and a lot of fun."
The district's request was granted; the edited version of "All Shook Up" will be performed at the end of February. But some members of the Herriman community think that censorship doesn't solve the real problem.
"For some people, anything but 'The Sound of Music' is too risqué for high school kids. Never mind that the oldest of those kids can probably vote, and can certainly join the armed forces," one commenter wrote. "Sanitizing every experience is a very poor way to prepare children to handle the world of which they are a part."
Here's a look at what we think may be one of the most controversial scenes in "All Shook Up," as performed in 2011 by the Pauper Players. What do you think? Too risque for high schoolers, or much ado about nothing?
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