Utah school reverses decision to cancel play over Elvis song

SALT LAKE CITY — A parent who was “All Shook Up” about Elvis Presley songs in a high-school drama prompted educators to cancel the musical, deeming it too sexual. But the decision was reversed Thursday by administrators at the high school south of Salt Lake City.

The administrators at Herriman High School received permission from the copyright owners of “All Shook Up” to edit some of Presley’s songs and make scene changes in the American jukebox musical that borrows from William Shakespeare.

“The show will go on,” said Sandy Riesgraf, a spokeswoman for the Jordan School District. “Our biggest concern early on, we wanted to make some changes to keep the play within community values. It’s a win-win for all of us.”

Presley warbles about a sweetheart whose “lips are like a volcano that’s hot” in his song from 1957. “I’m proud to say she’s my buttercup. I’m in love. I’m all shook up.”

His song lyrics together with a scene suggesting cross-dressing were deemed offensive by a person the school is refusing to identify.

Some think school administrators folded too easily at the start.

“I’m at a loss,” Jill Fishback, whose daughter worked on the production, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “They’re singing Elvis songs. A girl dresses up as a boy and kisses a boy. … It’s not promoting homosexuality. It was supposed to be a farce.”

“All Shook Up” brings a modern twist to Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” which portrays a female castaway who dresses as a boy to evade detection in ancient southern Europe, said Martine Green-Rogers, a theater fellow at the University of Utah.

“There’s a misunderstanding about the plot of the play,” Green-Rogers said. “It happens a lot in theater. Artists push boundaries.”

The female castaway dresses as a boy as cover to wander about, but reveals herself as she falls in love with a young man. “By that time, the genders have been righted,” Green-Rogers said. “The audience knows it’s not a homosexual relationship.”

Nonetheless, Herriman High School, about 20 miles from Salt Lake City, will make some scene changes to the musical version of the Shakespeare play that Riesgraf couldn’t immediately specify on Thursday.

“We weren’t asking for a lot. It will not change the intent of the play. They gave us their blessing,” she said of the musical’s producers.

The reversal came a day after administrators said they were scrubbing “All Shook Up.” The production is back on for a run in February and March.

It wasn’t the first time some Utah parents balked at a school drama. In August, the family values group Eagle Forum got Jordan School District administrators to cancel “Dead Man Walking,” a play about a Catholic nun who counsels a death-row inmate in Louisiana.

“Dead Man Walking” was scratched even though much of its profanity had been removed from the script. The backlash prompted policy changes that allowed administrators to swiftly suspend “All Shook Up” before the reversal.

Jordan officials gave parents a greater role over student plays. They required actors to secure a parent’s permission and drama teachers to seek clearance for plays not on an approved list. But district officials said they failed to give “All Shook Up” careful scrutiny.

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