Menjivar, school employee for 17 years, said in the past she has omitted foul language or changed scripts, and that neither she nor directors Laura Oxenreiter and Mike Fitzpatrick would put students in compromising situations. “We have never, ever embarrassed the school district,” she said.
Principal Janice Zupsic confirmed that after reviewing a document on the show, she halted the production due to "questionable themes" that might not be appropriate, she said.
A group of disappointed students and parents voiced support for keeping “Chicago,” pointing out that West Allegheny High School performed the same musical last year and won the Pittsburgh CLO's Gene Kelly Awards.
Board President MC Knafelc said board members were just made aware before Wednesday’s meeting that there was an issue. She said the board doesn’t make decisions on plays.
Interim Superintendent Joseph Dimperio said he also never heard from anyone involved in the musical. He agreed to meet with the directors Thursday to hear plans. After the meeting, he will make a final decision and communicate that with the board.
Menjivar said she welcomed a meeting. A number of students have already been cast in roles and recently attended a Saturday workshop with a world-renowned Bob Fosse protégé, who was in the original “Chicago” on Broadway.
Students Maddie Genrie of Harmony and Megan Huey of Economy were cast as Velma and Roxie and said they have worked hard preparing for the show.
Genrie said the production is tastefully done, and she pointed out that the script was changed last year when students did “The Addams Family.”
“We’re really excited for this show,” Huey added. “The two of us have put in a lot of work.”
Parents said they would object if they thought the play was too risqué, and asked administrators to have confidence in their decision to allow their children to perform.
Parent Mary Catherine Kiliany, a lecturer at Robert Morris University, asked administrators not to “cotton ball our children.” She and others pointed out themes in a range of shows, including “Grease,” which deals with teen pregnancy and the gangs and violence in “West Side Story.”
“You cannot find a play that doesn’t have some narrative in it because that’s what stories are about,” said Kiliany of Ambridge.
At least one parent, however, opposed the choice. Kim Freeman of Economy said she is concerned "Chicago" has more of an adult theme and won’t draw younger children. She said a more appropriate play would be Cinderella, which she said the school performed in 1995 and was a big success.
“Unfortunately this world is filled with a lot of ugly things and I taught my kids that, but I don’t want them to have to sit there and see it on stage,” Freeman said. “The idea is to get as many people in here."
Parents Bernadette and Richard Aquino said they support the decision for "Chicago." Their son, Ricco Aquino, a senior, told the board his parents took him to see Chicago on Broadway when he was just 14. He said participating in show has boosted his self-confidence and helped bring him out of his shell.
“It’s cool to go up there and dance, and learn, and hang out with friends -- and have fun,” he said.