Will the show go on? D300 Superintendent reconsiders decision to postpone 'The Prom' musical

Hampshire High School drama students are learning that life can really imitate art as they lobby to have a controversial high school musical that centers around a lesbian couple who wish to go to prom go on as planned.

The school's choir director had selected “The Prom” as the spring musical but learned the night before he was set to reveal his selection to students in late September that the show could not go on. In a meeting with students Friday, Community Unit District 300 Superintendent Susan Harkin said she decided to postpone the show out of concerns for student safety. She cited examples of “hate-filled emails” regarding the district's “Day of Silence,” community members seeking to “out” members of the school's Gay/Straight Alliance and threats related to a recent LGBTQ+ meeting held at a District 300 school.

“The postponement reflected a concern held by our administrative team that the larger District 300 community may not be prepared to fully support this performance without risking potential harassment, bullying and violence targeting our LGBTQ+ students, performers, staff or community members,” wrote Harkin, who issued a letter Monday to Hampshire High School parents saying she is reconsidering her position.

During a school board meeting Tuesday, about 25 parents, staff and students argued that the potential for threats did not outweigh the need to go on with the show.

“I understand the reasons the administration is hesitant and believe their concerns are student-centered,” said Tammy Hamrick, a teacher at Hampshire Middle School. “However, the reasons for the hesitancy are the very reasons this play is important.

“Every time we push LGBTQ+ issues out of sight, regardless of motivation, we send a message that it's wrong and bad and we unwittingly confirm the beliefs of bigots.”

Chad Beguelin, lyricist and co-author of the musical, took to social media to show support for students and has been in contact with district officials. In a letter to Harkin, Beguelin shared how the musical has affected even the most cynical theatergoers, who in the end have embraced the production's message.

“That's what this show can do,” Beguelin wrote in his letter. “The message is about accepting everyone. And it has opened minds and warmed hearts.”

“The Prom,” based on a true story, ran on Broadway from November 2018 to August 2019. The musical toured nationally starting in 2021, with a performance at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theater in 2022. The musical, which received several Tony nods in 2019, was adapted for film in 2020 and can be found on Netflix.

Hampshire would have been among the first high schools in the suburbs to perform the musical. Glenbrook North and South high schools are slated to perform it this spring at Glenbrook North.

Chris Cherry, the high school's choir director, remains hopeful that Harkin will reverse her decision to postpone the show. He said high school staff has been working with the district to meet Harkin's request for a safety plan for those involved in the play.

“The show is about community, inclusion and loving everybody for who they were born to be,” Cherry said. “I don't think there's a better message that could be said at a high school right now ... that no matter who you are, no matter who you love, you have the right to be a normal kid and do things like go to the prom.”

Cherry and Beguelin noted the musical takes playful jabs at both “liberal Democrats from Broadway” and “hard-core Republicans.”

Cherry acknowledged that the controversy playing out over the musical shares some resemblance to the production.

“This is life imitating art,” Cherry said. “In the show, the kids aren't allowed to go to the prom because of concerns for their safety.”

The initial decision to postpone the production and questions about the community's potential reactions to the show raised concerns for Hampshire Village President Mike Reid.

“I just wish we would've been allowed the opportunity or chance to be involved if there were concerns about our community before our more than 7,600 residents were unfairly and singularly defined,” Reid said. “I've been a part of the District 300 and Hampshire communities for 22 years. They're both kind, welcoming, understanding and unique.”

  Hampshire High School students are hopeful Community Unit District 300 Superintendent Susan Harkin will reverse an earlier decision to postpone plans to feature "The Prom" as its spring musical. Brian Hill/, 2020
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