Censored high school musicals (should shows be cleaned up for kids?)
Posted by: TheBroadwayMaven (DavidBenkof@gmail.com) 12:03 pm EDT 05/18/23

Excerpt from today's Broadway Maven Weekly Blast:

ESSAY: Recent news stories have highlighted school cancellations of productions of shows like Indecent and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. But there’s another kind of censorship that’s been happening for decades — Broadway shows losing “adult” content in the official “Jr.” versions — or just being changed (illegally) by individual directors.

Avenue Q: The song “The Internet is for Porn” becomes “My Social Life is Online,” which makes a completely different point. Given that schoolchildren are fully aware — too aware — or the existence of internet pornography, I’m not sure the change is necessary.

A Chorus Line: Instead of “Tits and Ass” in the song “Dance 10, Looks 3” Val sings “This and That.” It’s awfully prudish but actually works pretty well.

Anything Goes: In “I Get a Kick Out of You,” Reno Sweeney sings of getting “no kick from cocaine,” which is sometimes changed to “perfume from Spain.” It’s strange to cut a lyric in which a character disdains a dangerous drug, but the particular “fix” is quite nice, because it allows the song to keep the rhyme in the lyric “I’m sure that IF I took even one SNIFF” — since cocaine and perfume are both things that you sniff.

Rent: Two interesting changes in “La Vie Bohème.” In that list song, “to leather, to dildos” becomes “to leather, to latex,” which at least adds some alliteration. And the original’s line about Mark Cohen’s inability to “hold an erection” on the High Holy Days becomes the denuded “make a connection.”

Annie: In “It’s a Hard Knock Life” there’s a quick reference to making Mrs. Hannigan “drink a Mickey Finn” — essentially a date-rape drug. In the age of #MeToo that’s not OK, so some productions replace that line with “throw her in a looney bin” — thus replacing one problematic lyric with another. (Do we really need to mock mental heath facilities?)

Grease: The original lyrics to the song “Greased Lightnin’” were quite naughty, including phrases like “You know it ain’t no shit, I’ll be getting lots of tit” (becomes “You know without a doubt, I’ll be really making out”); “the chicks’ll cream” (becomes “the chicks’ll scream”) and “pussy wagon” (becomes “dragon wagon”).

Chicago: In “Cell Block Tango,” the lyric “You’ve been screwing the milkman” gets adjusted in various ways (like “messing around with” or “seeing”).

Whether licensers should adjust the content of a Broadway show has to rely on several factors, including the age-appropriateness of the references, the ability of contemporary youth to handle challenging material, and possible solutions that stay in the spirit of the original work. I don’t love any of the changes, but I must say I appreciate the élan behind the above changes for A Chorus Line and Anything Goes.

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