Vashon High School's 'A Chorus Line' needn’t ruffle feathers

Ours is a small pond. We know which kids imbibe and which couples are separating. It’s enough to make you pretty claustrophobic. Given this proximity, after a while, we decide it is easier on all concerned if we avoid shaking people up too much. After all, you’ll see them in Thriftway tomorrow. So I apologize in advance if I ruffle any feathers. Chalk it up to a 2010 goal to be a little less cognizant of feather-ruffling and more honest with folks.

You see, my favorite musical has remained constant since I saw it when I was 18. I love the songs, the dialogue, and the messages.  That’s why I was so excited when our high school chose to do “A Chorus Line.”

Yet here it comes — people are angry the high school is putting on this fantastic musical. They don’t think the message is appropriate for kids.

Here’s the shocking thing. In my view, young kids shouldn’t go to see “A Chorus Line.” I guess it really hinges on what you think a “young kid” is. And today, I am not thinking of kids. I am thinking of teens. And in my opinion, the two groups get confused in our community pretty frequently.

As a rather besotted Chorus Line fan, I can tell you there is nothing in this musical our teens don’t see and discuss every day. The only difference is that the lessons they are all learning every day are beautifully set to music.

Remember how the parents in “Footloose” seemed so horrific to us when we were in high school?  Those community members were so smug, so sure that the way to stop tragedy in their town was to stop music.  Yet the teenagers felt the need to dance. They always will. The question is whether they danced with consent or without, whether they were honest with their parents or not, whether they were safe or not.

“A Chorus Line” is a beautiful show, perfectly suited to today’s teenagers. It contains stories about how girls can be underestimated and judged on their looks; about the impact of divorce on children, and about the effect of bad teachers on kids. Mostly, there are stories about young adults who love to dance and sing.

Yes, there are plenty of gay people in the show. Yes, people wear skimpy dance clothes. Yes, there is one song that includes the names of not one but two female body parts.

But have you seen any text messaging lately? Any Facebook postings? I would love to find a teen who doesn’t know about these things. 

A few years ago, the high school put on “Cinderella,” a wonderful, classic show. But not a lot of folks came to see that. More importantly, teens weren’t dying to do it. Chicago, Cabaret, Fame? Kids wanted to do those shows.  And those kids learned about life and learned to love music.

When all is said and done, this really comes down to who is raising the kids. I heard once that after your kid turns 12, she or he is essentially raised by the community, friends, culture. Anyone but parents. When I heard that, I was shocked and appalled. Now, having two daughters who have passed that milestone, I understand. The kids will be out there at school, soaking up culture, seeing and hearing things. We can help them listen and learn, take their questions and guide them through the choices. Or, we can pretend those things don’t exist.

I am not a teacher. Stephen Floyd and Susan Hanson are educators at Vashon High School — fine ones, too. They know the arts. They know what other schools are doing. They know what reaches kids. I trust them to put on my beloved musical. I trust our fantastic kids to knock my socks off. I trust parents to use good judgment and not take small kids to see the show.

We all have differences. There are few things as deeply personal to us as how we raise our kids. We all feel such passion. That passion is on full display when we talk about drugs, drinking and driving or yes, grinding.

But I want my school to decide what musical to do. I am not going to ban the ones that are difficult or hard to handle. And, I am going to allow my teens to read books and listen to music that might be tough. They can come to me with questions. That’s my job.

And as to A Chorus Line? I’ll be there opening night.

— Lauri Hennessey runs a public relations firm on Vashon.

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