The poster for the Broadway musical All Shook Up. Does this seem too sexy to you? 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 nearly a year earlier, Jordan School District officials cancelled it on Wednesday, saying that it didn't conform to 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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But another district spokesperson, Steven Dunham, told Yahoo! Shine in an interview on Friday that cross-dressing wasn't the issue.
"The concerns about the play had nothing to do with the title song, "All Shook Up," and had nothing to do with the cross-dressing element of the play," he said. Even before Christmas break, when the complaint was made, the school's drama teacher had been concerned about certain scenes, he added.
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.")
"All Shook Up" has been performed by other Utah school districts and in community theaters 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."
School district officials reviewed the complaint over Christmas break and, ater re-reading the script, decided that there were some parts that could be offensive under the district's new policy, which was revised in August 2012. They assumed that they would not be able to change the musical without violating copyright, Dunham told Yahoo! Shine, so they decided to cancel the production when school was back in session this week. On Thursday, when officials contacted the publisher to see if they could have their licensing fees refunded, the publisher suggested that they edit the play instead; the publisher would review the changes and work on a compromise that would meet community standards.
"Adjustments to the play will be minor," Dunham told Yahoo! Shine. A couple of scenes will be slightly rewritten, he added, and one song will be changed. "It is only three words of the song that are being changed," he said. "It's not the title song, 'All Shook Up'."
"They felt we could rewrite and tone it down without changing the whole theme of the play," he continued. "They were willing to work with us."
Elvis Presley caused controversy when he skyrocketed to fame in the late 1950s with his raucous, rockabilly sound and his gyrating dance moves -- the very elements that make his music perfect for "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 edited version of "All Shook Up" will be performed as scheduled 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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