Set within a high school where gay kids are the norm and straight relationships are few and hidden, Zanna, Don't! opened to encouraging reviews Off Off-Broadway during the 2002 season and returned for an Off-Broadway commercial run in 2003.
The production, which was not produced by the school, but through Leadership Greater Hartford's Quest program and the non-profit LGBT youth organization True Colors, took place Oct. 14 at the Hartford High School's Government and Law Academy. The cast is comprised of local high school and college students.
"There are always circumstances (in organizing these programs) under which the values of the student or their family come into play," principal Adam Johnson told CBS. He said the school and students were informed of the gay kiss and the musical's content ahead of time.
"There was a public walkout by a bunch of students (when the kiss happened) … mostly male. It was visually evident (due to the jerseys the team was wearing) that a lot of football players got up and walked out. It was almost a symbolic kind of thing," he added.
Johnson said he also refused to remove the kiss after parents, students and a fellow teacher showed apprehension. Some students opted out of attending the performance, while other parents excused their children early from school.
Additional productions within the Hartford Public School system are planned for Oct. 21. Members of the public will be able to attend a performance later that day.
"I think that we're at a time in history where there is tremendous focus on bullying and the way students are treating each other, and how they are treated, in school. We have to teach students how to respect and honor each other. (The students) need to learn about the diversity of the world and respecting the rights of all people. (I’m) really glad that we did this program," Johnson added.
Zanna, Don't!, which is being presented as part of an anti-bullying initiative, has music, book and lyrics by Tim Acito, with Alexander Dinelaris (The Bodyguard) as co-book writer. GLADD, which honors inclusive portrayals of the LGBT community in art and media, awarded the production the 2003 Media Award for Outstanding New York Theater Production.