PLAISTOW — Timberlane High School students, dressed in formal attire, turned out en masse to protest the school district’s plan to put a production of “Sweeney Todd” on the chopping block.
“We want everyone to understand how serious we are,” said Jaryd Nimmo, 16, a member of the Timberlane Players, the school’s theatre troupe. “We want to show them that we’re not just emotional teenagers.”
Last week, the Timberlane Players learned that a planned production of “Sweeney Todd,” chosen by the troupe as the spring 2015 show, had been shelved due to concerns over the play’s subject matter.
Before Wednesday night’s forum, Superintendent Earl Metzler said he would listen to both sides of the debate and keep an open mind.
Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” tells the story of a barber who escapes prison and seeks revenge through murder. His accomplice bake the victims into meat pies.
Howard Sherman, the former president of the American Theatre Wing, the organization responsible for the Tony Awards, traveled to Timberlane from New York City for the meeting. Sherman said “Sweeney Todd” is about “morality, justice, and the lengths that people are driven to when they face injustice.”
Dozens of students also lined up to speak in favor of “Sweeney Todd.”
“Yes, people are going to be uncomfortable with ‘Sweeney Todd,’” but that’s what the beauty of art is,” said student Brynn Grambow. “It allows you to experience these uncomfortable feelings and cope with them in the safety of a theater.”
Sondheim has approved a version of the musical for use in high schools that eliminates some of the more graphic details. But even with the modifications, Sherman said, the show may not be suitable for younger children.
“This show will not please everyone,” Sherman said. “It never has.”
Parent Kevin Geary said he would probably be one of the people who would be offended by the play, “but I’m more afraid of the people who want to protect me from being offended.”
Though many other musicals could easily pass muster with the administration, parent Mark Sherwood said, having to continually watch plays like “Oklahoma” would be more offensive to his sensibilities than a show like “Sweeney Todd.”
None of the more than 150 people in the audience spoke directly against the production of “Sweeney Todd,” though Principal Donald Woodworth said there’s going to be a lot of work needed to educate the public why this particular show must go on.
The school district will be issuing a decision later this week or early next week.