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Williamsport woman plans to take stand against play

March 24, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - While anti-war protesters across the globe raise arms against injustice, one Williamsport grandmother plans to stake her faith in God to take a stand against "Les Misrables."

After Amy Myers, 70, filed a written complaint to the Washington County Board of Education about lyrics to be sung in a Williamsport High School student production of the musical, a school-appointed committee decided the production would go on as planned.

But Myers doesn't plan to let the committee's actions keep her from making a point.

She will be at each performance - April 3, 4, 5, 11 and 12 - but she will not applaud "Les Misrables," a musical she said is unwholesome despite the committee's stance that it is not explicitly sexual.

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Myers said she will hold a sign in protest of the musical for an hour before each performance. The words to be written on her sign are still pending inspiration, waiting on God's guidance, she said.

"It bothers me what's going on in the world today," Myers said. "We need to get back on the right track."

She said her grandson, an actor in the musical, told her he wouldn't be offended if she didn't come to his performance this year because he knew she wouldn't like the language.

After finding the score, Myers found that not only didn't she like the language, she didn't like the musical's message.

Although the musical's director, Ruth Ridenour, has said the story, based on the classic novel of the same name by 19th-century French author Victor Hugo, is an artful tale of redemption, Myers said the language taints that representation.

"If I listened to this, I wouldn't get saved," she said.

She asked why words such as "bitch," "bastard" and "hell" would be allowed to be sung in a school play but not allowed to be spoken in school. She said much of the content is inappropriate for the intended audience. Myers believes all school productions should be directed at families.

"I want to see kids in school stand for good, moral things," she said.

Myers pointed out the song, "The Docks," in which sailors sing, "Lovely ladies, ready for the call, standing up or lying down or anyway at all."

"These are sailors singing that and what they're going to do to these whores," she said shaking her head.

After accepting Myers' written complaint, the School Board formed a committee made up of a sampling of the school's student, community and teacher leaders to review the musical along with Myers.

The committee met four times during a more than two-week period with her, reading and listening to the musical's score, before making its decision to continue with the production, Ridenour said.

"Les Misrables" has been on Broadway for 16 years, making it the New York City theater district's longest-running musical, said Ridenour, Williamsport music department chairwoman and drama coach.

Ridenour is using a copyrighted student edition, which was designed for a cast younger than 19 and was released under copyright by Music Theatre International last year.

It was created by shortening some scenes, lowering octaves, adjusting keys and omitting some of the more vulgar language from the original score, she said.

Under copyright law, Ridenour cannot delete language or cut scenes, she said. If the language is cut from the production, the play cannot be performed, she said.

It has since been performed by hundreds of high schools in the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Australia, she said.

"As an educator, you never know how people will react to things," she said. "We see things in the full context and sometimes other people don't."

Adult tickets to the show are $10 and student and senior tickets are $8, she said.

Ticket buyers are being advised that the content of the musical is mature, Ridenour said.

Myers said she's happy about the warning but plans to be at the musical's gates just the same.

"Anybody who wants to stand with me can, but if you see me standing alone, I won't be," Myers said and smiled.

She raised her misty-eyed glance to the heavens and nodded her head.

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