In a censorship story that feels dredged from a mid-century time capsule, a High School in Utah will allow the musical All Shook Up to be performed, but has removed a “questionable song.”
It’s unclear what song has been removed from the play, which is in fact a rewriting of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. About that: evidently in addition to the music part of the problem also revolves around a homoerotic kiss in the play.
If you’ve seen Twelfth Night — or even the Amanda Bynes teen rom-com adaptation She’s the Man — you know the play follows the travails of the castaway Viola, who disguises herself as a boy, calls herself Cesario, and infiltrates the court of Duke Orsino. Orsino uses “Cesario” as a messenger to convey his love to the lady Olivia. She loves him/her, she/he loves him, he loves her, yada yada yada, hijinx ensue.
The irony of censoring “All Shook Up” is too keen. Part Twelfth Night, part Footloose, the play is set in a dismal midwest town where tight pants, kissing and, of course, loud raucous rock and roll are all outlawed.
The teens of the town are biding their time, dreaming of excitement when Chad, a leather-clad Elvis type, rolls into town to rock their socks. (Later in the play, Chad is sought by authorities for corrupting other innocent youths with his doggone music and fun-loving). Viola character Natalie falls in love with Chad and enacts a plan to win him by transforming into the greaser Ed, who becomes Chad’s sidekick. Ed delivers Chad’s love notes to the beautiful Sandra and when Ed asks Chad’s advice for winning over girls, the dude and the girl in drag share a kiss.
One can talk about the homoeroticism present in both Twelfth Night and All Shook Up; in the latter, however, Chad declares his love for Ed and after the big reveal, Chad is not at all relieved to find his love is “gender appropriate” but is so disappointed Ed isn’t a real person he skips town. In the end, he changes his mind and the two ride off into the sunset together. Natalie, gasp, is the one driving however.
The school district is calling it “a win-win.” Win-win-lose, would be a better description: the school district may save face by making the changes and can pat themselves on the back for upholding “community standards” and certainly the community member lodging the complaint got their way, a win for them.
But what about the students staging the performance? Other students in the district who might benefit from a little gender-bending conversation/entertainment? Queer students who are told that stories that reflect their experiences must be rewritten? Students across the country who want to assemble and present stories through theater without intervention from “concerned citizens”? What about the author of the work or similar works?
Maybe someone in the district should watch this video featuring Salt Lake City native Zara Zemmels, who was interviewed by the History Channel about a high school project she did on music censorship: