Ohio high school musical abruptly halted, deemed ‘vulgar’

Story at a glance

  • Cardinal Local Schools in Ohio was preparing to put on its spring musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” when it was canceled by the school board.

  • There had been complaints raised about language in the show, about the appearance of Jesus and the fact that some of the characters are gay.

  • The show’s assistant director said it is too late in the season to try to put on a different musical.

MIDDLEFIELD, Ohio (WJW) — After months of planning, an Ohio school district abruptly canceled its high school musical, claiming it was “vulgar.”

In a statement, the Cardinal Local Schools superintendent Jack Cunningham said, “The Cardinal Local School District has decided that its spring musical production will not be ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.’ Its dialogue and song lyrics contain vulgarity and are therefore not suitable for our pre-teen and teenage students in an educational setting.”

Two of the characters in the musical are gay male parents. The district said anyone suggesting discrimination is “mistaken.”

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“When we found out it was canceled, everybody was just heartbroken. Honestly, it was terrible. Everyone was just crying,” said Riley Matchinga, a senior who was playing a lead role in the musical.

Mandi Matchinga, Riley’s mother and assistant director for the musical, said she was shocked to learn production was halted given that it was greenlit early in the school year by the district.

According to the superintendent, the musical was not approved by the school board or district administration.

The school board made the decision to cancel the musical. A request for comment was not returned.

A meeting was held earlier this month with the administration where Matchinga said three concerns were brought up by the superintendent, who informed the production of some complaints.

“There were concerns about the language in one of the songs,” said Matchinga. “There was a concern about Jesus appearing in the show, and there was a complaint about the fact that two of the parents were gay.”

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Matchinga said changes to dialogue were made and a song was already edited for the high school production prior to the production being stopped. Permission forms were set to be signed for a special middle school student viewing, something she said happened in years past.

The district went on to state it wants “student productions to be something that community members of all ages may enjoy without adult supervision.”

Matchinga said $1,700 was spent on the production. She said it’s too late in the school year to gain licensing required to put on another musical because that would involve 10 to 17 weeks of rehearsing.

Her daughter is planning to study musical theater in college and said the purpose of theater is not only to entertain but to inform.

“Theater is about making you think about things and making you question things and thinking critically,” she said.

Matchinga plans to address the issue at the upcoming school board meeting.

“Now they’re using the word vulgar instead of family-friendly,” said Matchinga. “What is vulgar? What exactly are the issues you have with this show, and can we sit and come to some sort of compromise and agreement?”

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