Peter Atlas always thought Concord-Carlisle Regional High School was open to diversity, but when he put out his casting call for the musical “Falsettos’’ he had doubts about the turnout.
How many teenagers would audition for a show about two homosexual couples, a straight couple, and a 12-year-old boy?
Dozens, he learned. When it came time to cast the seven-member ensemble, Atlas had his pick from among around 50 candidates from across the student body.
“I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of our administration for supporting this show,’’ said Atlas, a math teacher and sometime theatrical director. “To say I was surprised would be to underestimate them, but I can tell you I was delighted.’’
As Atlas and his cast prepare to open “Falsettos’’ this Friday, they may be making high school theatrical history.
The musical, co-written by Natick native William Finn and James Lapine, won two Tony awards after its 1992 debut. But according to Brad Lohrenz, director of licensing at the agency that handles Finn’s royalties, Concord-Carlisle is the first public high school in the country to produce the show for an outside audience.
“I can’t quite believe that a public high school is doing this,’’ Finn said last week. “It seems either very brave or very stupid to me. But honestly, it’s wonderful that this is being done. It makes me think that high school must be a much more civilized place than it was when I was a student.’’
But it doesn’t surprise the cast members that their school is the one to break new ground in this way. They say they have all grown up in an environment that welcomes diversity of all kinds, including sexual orientation.
“Among most groups here, it’s widely accepted, just another thing that the person is, and not something negative. A characteristic, like having blue eyes,’’ said stage manager Ben Marsh. “There will always be a few jerks who think it’s not OK, but that’s to be expected. This play definitely discourages stereotypes and serves as an information source.’’
“Falsettos’’ tells the story of Marvin, a married man who decides to leave his wife to begin a new life with his male lover, and the effect that decision has on his own family as well as two other couples, one lesbian and one heterosexual.
Sophomore Hannah Kilcoyne plays 12-year-old Jason, Marvin’s son, in Concord-Carlisle’s production, and for her the performance holds significance beyond what she ever expected to find in a high school musical.
“Jason’s family story is really similar to my family story,’’ said Kilcoyne, who experienced the divorce that resulted from her mother’s coming out as a lesbian.
“Now I’m up on stage portraying something that is very normal to me but will educate other people about different families and different lives. There are so many kids who might feel left out of the story line of the average high school play but can recognize themselves in this one.’’
For senior Kailey Pryor, the play has been a learning experience.
“Growing up in Concord, you get the message that people here are really liberal, but a lot of kids haven’t really had that much experience with actual issues,’’ Pryor said. “At one of our first rehearsals, Mr. Atlas talked to us about the gay rights movement and how AIDS affected the gay community, and that was eye-opening. I’ve always said I’m pro-gay rights because those are the values in my family, but being in the show has taught me a lot more about what that means.’’
In Atlas’s experience, Concord-Carlisle has been ahead of the curve for public high schools in terms of its openness to diversity. He witnessed it first when he came out as a gay man to colleagues and students in the early 1990s, and has seen it develop further in the two decades since, through the work and outreach of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, which he started there.
Still, he was moved by principal Peter Badalament’s openness to the show and how the school has received the project.
Atlas recalls the conversation he had with the two boys who play the gay male leads. “I told them that if they play their parts successfully, the audience will confuse them and their characters, which is to say, people will assume they’re gay or they never would have been able to play the part so convincingly,’’ Atlas said. “They understood that and assured me it wasn’t a problem for them. I’m amazed and delighted at how cavalier these kids are. It’s so not an issue.’’
Two years ago, Acton-Boxborough Regional High School staged “The Laramie Project,’’ an acclaimed drama documenting the aftermath of the murder of a gay college student in Laramie, Wyo.
Acton-Boxborough drama teacher Linda Potter found herself and her students on the front lines of controversy when members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, which is known for protests against homosexuality, picketed outside the school.
“All they did was bring us more attention and a larger audience,’’ said Potter.
Concord-Carlisle has not escaped notice for its staging of “Falsettos.’’ The play caught the attention of MassResistance.org, a grass-roots activist group in Massachusetts, whose online newsletter recently ran a headline saying “Concord-Carlisle High School presenting depraved homosexual musical.’’
Atlas and the students involved with the performance say they know of no active dissent within the Concord-Carlisle community concerning the musical, though a small number of boys withdrew their interest after the first round of auditions.
For senior Zander Ansara, playing a man who leaves his wife for a male lover is a far cry from Ansara’s last theatrical role - Danny Zuko in a seventh-grade production of “Grease.’’
Ansara said he tried out for “Falsettos’’ only because he didn’t make the soccer team this fall and had a lot of time on his hands.
“My friends don’t make fun of me for playing a gay character,’’ he said. “They just make fun of me for being in a play.’’
Performances will be held on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; and next Sunday at 2 p.m. in the high school auditorium, 500 Walden St., Concord. Tickets are $15 and will be available at the door.
Source: The Boston Globe