WEST ORANGE, NJ – When the cast of the West Orange High School (WOHS) performed its spring musical, The Wedding Singer,” from March 18-22—the audience saw a slightly modified version of what was originally planned.
Upon seeing the dress rehearsal of the show, WOHS Principal Hayden Moore reached out to Superintendent Jeffrey Rutzky with concerns that the play wasn't more family-friendly. His main issues were the cursing, sexual innuendos and a lap dance scene.
Based on the movie of the same name, the multiple Tony-nominated play featured New Jersey wedding band front man (Robbie Hart) who met a quirky waitress (Julia Sullivan) at a gig the day before he was set to marry the “girl of his dreams.” Comedic hijinks ensued, as both Robbie and Julia discovered that they were the ones who were really meant for each other. The original play ran for nearly a year on Broadway with music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin and book by Tim Herlihy.
Rutzky said he went to see the play on Friday night and that though the production and performances were outstanding, he agreed about Moore’s concerns.
“I support Mr. Moore’s concerns and actions 100 percent,” said Rutzky.
They then met with the play’s director and asked him to remove the offensive scene and change the bad language for the next show. The actors had little time to memorize their new lines and block the scenes but managed to perform the show seamlessly for the paying audiences. Timing was the main challenge.
Rutzky said that the West Orange school system runs from kindergarten to 12th grade and that anyone should be able to see a high school production without being offended.
He also said that there are hundreds of plays out there to choose from.
Jordan Bialik, a WOHS student who saw the play censored and uncensored said, “Yeah the show was different. The lines that they asked us to get rid of were changed to alternate versions. Some of them sounded like a 'Kidz Bop' track. Some of the changes were, in my opinion, super unnecessary. Not every show is a children's show. We are high schoolers, and we should be able to handle high-school level material.”
“Some scenes definitely needed to be censored, but at the end of the day, it comes down to parental discretion,” said WOHS English teacher Elicia Baker. “You cannot take your 4-year-old child to see a movie that's rated PG-13.”
Some actors were not thrilled with the decision to make changes. Having to remember new lines and scene blocking with little to no practice was the greatest hurdle. However, some understood that making last-minute changes is part of acting and acquiesced feeling—the show must go on.
Student Henry Gardner, who played main character Robbie Hart said, “I do not believe in censorship, but I understand if changes need to be made to the show to make it more family friendly. I don't agree with all of the changes made, but the real problem was the timing. These changes really should have been made before the script was even approved by the school, because, even though the show wasn't drastically changed or anything, the changes made to the script that we had been rehearsing for months did throw us off and make the show more difficult to perform. The show still went terrifically, in my opinion, but the sudden changes did make us feel a little unprepared.”
Eleventh-grader Sarah Velasquez, an actor in the play said, “The musical was a huge success and was a memorable experience for everyone that was part of the cast. However, I feel that a lot of the words that were censored weren't necessary to censor. We hear those words and words that are similar to them on a daily basis in school. Nonetheless, a lot of the phrases no longer made sense when words were replaced. I also feel that it is definitely unfair to have people that have been working on the musical for months to have one day to change a lot of their lines on top of everything else they already had to worry about.”
She added that the difference was not only in the lines and said, “Also, some people messed up movement because they were so focused on not saying the actual line and replacing words. Under stage lights and the eyes of the house staring at you, that can be a lot of pressure without rehearsal.”
“Although this definitely gave us all more pressure, being or aspiring to be a professional in the future encompasses that you need to learn how to not only work under pressure but to take commands and direction quickly and handle any unexpected changes that might occur; even on the night of the show,” said Velasquez.
Education comes first at WOHS and cast members even learned a lesson while starring in the play—to succeed in the theater—it is sometimes necessary to adapt and be quick one’s feet.