EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 10, 2014

Timberlane students will perform 'Sweeney Todd'

Administration reverses earlier decision

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune.com

---- — PLAISTOW — The show will go on.

Superintendent Earl Metzler announced late yesterday afternoon that Timberlane Regional High School students will be allowed to perform “Sweeney Todd” next spring after the production had been put on hold because of its controversial content.

Metzler said he and Timberlane High School principal Don Woodworth met with members of the Timberlane Players yesterday at about 4 p.m. to announce the administration’s decision.

But Metzler said the decision to continue with the show next spring was only made after the students agreed to certain criteria earlier in the day.

The criteria includes that students perform a “high school-appropriate” version of the play, he said.

“I have reviewed and approved ‘Sweeney Todd’ production adaptations submitted by the drama department that addresses my concerns as well as the concerns raised by others,” Metzler said in a prepared statement.

The administration also required that an additional performance be held in December that is appropriate for all ages, Metzler said.

“The entire community will have a show they can go to,” Metzler said. “Our belief is our rendition of ‘Sweeney Todd’ will surpass any of our previous productions. ... It was never about censorship.”

Metzler also said he and administrators were impressed by the maturity shown by students at a public forum April 3 at which more than 40 people asked that they be allowed to perform the show. More than 120 people attended the forum.

“They acted in a polite, respectful manner to make their point,” he said.

The administration had decided “Sweeney Todd” wasn’t appropriate for young children and canceled the production, angering many parents and students.

‘‘Sweeney Todd” is the story of a barber who is exiled to Australia on trumped-up charges by a judge who lusts after his wife.

Driven mad by the injustice, when he returns to England and reopens his barbershop, he slits the throats of his customers. His landlady then bakes them into pies and sells them.

Metzler released a statement explaining the version students will perform. It was created by Sondheim for Music Theatre International.

“This version includes changes to the script and the song lyrics to tone down the overt sexual references and the use of more gruesome visuals,” he said. “There are also adaptations made to make the play more palatable to the community at large, while remaining true to the underlying themes of injustice and human suffering.”

The announcement to the group of approximately 40 student actors at 4 p.m. brought cheers and applause, according to student Ryan Blomquist of Atkinson.

“Everyone held their breath when the answer came out,” the 17-year-old said. “We were definitely surprised; we didn’t know if we would get it back. It was a very nice feeling.”

One of the first things Ryan did was text the news to his mother, Beth Blomquist.

“He was very excited,” she said.

She’s one of many parents and students who have been following the issue on a Facebook page started by Randall Mikkelsen, the parent of a Timberlane graduate. He started the page after the administration asked students to take down their own “Sweeney Todd” page.

Students and parents in the school community rallied in support of the performance, criticizing the administration for its initial decision to cancel the play.

Beth Blomquist said she was glad the performance is back on, but still questions the original decision.

“I was very disappointed in the way it was handled,” she said. “I didn’t understand, quite frankly. We were shocked when we heard it was canceled.”

Other students also texted their parents when they heard the news, including Michaela Kosta of Plaistow. She’s the daughter of former Timberlane School Board member Elizabeth Kosta.

“She was very excited,” Elizabeth Kosta said. “She was very disappointed when the first decision came out. I’m very excited for all of the kids. All of them are all on cloud nine.”

Kosta was also pleased to hear about the second performance.

“I’m excited they are doing a play that everyone can perform in,” she said.

Mikkelsen also was satisfied with the decision.

“We can now unite behind our shared goals of providing a quality education,” he said. “It is also gratifying to know that the students at Timberlane will have an opportunity to explore and enact Stephen Sondheim’s acclaimed musical.”