School play draws criticism
The Bay Shore High School cast of “Chicago the Musical” takes a bow after the show.

Courtesy photo

School play draws criticism

Story By: LIZ FINNEGAN
4/18/2019


BAY SHORE—In the 1920s, Chicago reporter Maurine Watkins covered the crime scene in the windy city and used her experiences to write a play, which was laced with seduction, scandal and satire.  Choreographer Bob Fosse purchased the rights to the play, “Chicago,” from the author’s estate in 1969. “Chicago the Musical” then opened on Broadway in 1975 and continues to run as one of the longest-running plays on the Great White Way. It was also a successful film in 2002 and now has been adapted for the high school stage. However, a recent production at Bay Shore High School has raised a few eyebrows and caused some concern.

Joan Eisele Cooper, a resident of Bay Shore, attended one showing. After seeing the play she wrote a letter to the district’s board of education to express her disappointment with the production.

“I was appalled as an educator and a grandparent,” she told the Islip Bulletin in a telephone interview. “This is not what I want in our community.”

Eisele Cooper said although the students were talented performers, the content of the play was not appropriate for their age. And she said a parental discretion advisory for younger viewers was not offered before tickets were purchased to warn of the explicit sexual content of the play, foul language, scant costumes and reenacted crime that involved stabbings and shootings. “The school environment has changed,” she noted, saying that crime in schools is a real thing and it has no place on a high school stage. “Kids are afraid to go to school because of [possible violence]. And the #MeToo movement exists,” she added. “What are we doing here?”

Bob Polit does not live in the district, but has grandchildren that do. The retired educator said he attends most of the school plays and he thought this one was a bit too provocative. “In today’s society, mores are a little looser, but this was something high school students shouldn’t be doing,” he said. “They were talented kids; they did a good job, but this is something they shouldn’t have been involved in.”

Speaking on behalf of the school board, district superintendent Joe Bond released a statement in which he said he couldn’t disagree more with those summations. He said the production was “a wonderful staging of a Broadway classic. I…was blown away by the performance of our students. The production that was used is a high school version, which is an age-appropriate version. It has been performed by thousands of high schools across the country.”

Bond said the high school productions are “selected by a committee of drama department staff. All of these individuals have many years of experience working with students and are more than able to gauge the level and type of shows that our students are able to handle from both a performance and maturity standpoint. They are always mindful of the material our students are working with.”

Bond said the arts program at the high school has a lot of support from the community. In fact, before the show began, the district’s Art Education Fund arranged for the dance captain from the Broadway production to help instruct the players. “Our students benefited from that,” Bond said.

“I have heard nothing but positive comments [about the production] from our theater parents and community,” Bond added. “There will always be people who do not see things the same way, and that’s okay. They are entitled to their opinion about their theater experience.”

Eisele Cooper, who is a teacher in another district, said that there are many other shows that would have been more suitable for the students than Chicago. “There could have been a lot of things done differently,” she added.