Students at an Ohio's Cardinal High School were rehearsing for their production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee when the school board told directors the show was canceled. In a statement to The News-Herald, Cardinal Local Schools Superintendent Jack Cunningham said the show’s “dialogue and song lyrics contain vulgarity and are therefore not suitable for our preteen and teenage students in an educational setting.”
According to The Hill, Assistant Director Mandi Matchinga said Cunningham cited complaints against the production in a meeting in January. The concerns included the depiction of Jesus, explicit language, and the fact that one character’s parents are gay.
Original Spelling Bee cast member Jesse Tyler Ferguson responded to the cancellation in an Instagram video. “I guarantee there’s someone at this school who’s maybe being raised by gay parents, but definitely more than one person at this school is gay or lesbian or bisexual,” he said. “The message that this sends to them, that that is not “family appropriate” or “family friendly,” rather, is toxic and harmful and kind of abusive.” Ferguson goes on to share that he and his fellow Spelling Bee original Broadway company members are working on connecting with the cast via Zoom, though further plans have not yet been finalized.
Last month, a Florida high school’s production of Indecent was canceled in a similar manner, with students claiming the decision was a result of anti-LGBTQ legislation and rhetoric in the state.
Superintendent Cunningham’s statement contradicted the idea that LGBTQ+ representation was a factor in canceling the production: “The district vigorously enforces its prohibition against discriminatory harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity)...anyone suggesting otherwise is simply mistaken,” he said.
With a book by Rachel Sheinkin and a score by William Finn, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee debuted on Broadway in 2005. The comedic musical follows a local spelling competition and its six quirky middle school-aged competitors. Despite the Ohio school's issues with the work's material, the musical has become a favorite at schools nationwide. Author-approved revisions are available to make the show more family friendly.