Ohio High School Fires Director for Staging Legally Blonde Musical; Creators and Parents Comment

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22 Dec 2012

Sonja Hansen
Sonja Hansen

An Ohio high school that fired the woman hired to direct its musicals is reassessing the goals of its drama program after school administrators expressed concerns over a production of the Tony Award-nominated musical Legally Blonde.

Loveland High School, located 20 miles northeast of Cincinnati, presented a November production of Legally Blonde, the 2007 stage musical based on the Golden Globe-nominated 2001 film of the same title.

Sonja Hansen, a local professional dancer and choreographer, was hired by Loveland High to direct the school's musical productions. In recent years she choreographed Beauty and the Beast and staged productions of Grease and Seussical there. In November, she directed and choreographed a well-attended production of Legally Blonde. While she was not a faculty member at the school, parents of Loveland students who spoke with Playbill.com credited her with re-energizing the theatre program and bringing together students in a productive way.

Legally Blonde is one of the most popular new titles licensed by Music Theatre International and is frequently produced in high schools across America. A film of the Broadway production garnered high ratings when it aired on MTV in 2007, and Music Theatre International is also developing a Broadway Junior version for young audiences. 

The Motion Picture Association of America gave the 2001 film of "Legally Blonde" a PG-13 rating, while MTI rates the musical property as PG, describing it as a "fun, upbeat musical about self-discovery."

Administrators at Loveland, including high school principal Christopher Kloesz who took over his title in September, felt differently. Following the first two performances of Legally Blonde's Nov. 14-18 run, Kloesz approached Hansen with concerns over presenting the material in a high school setting.

Hansen and another parent at the school told Playbill.com that attempts were made to address issues within the text and staging, and that a sign was placed in the lobby letting patrons know the production was rated PG. Loveland school administration, including principal Kloesz and superintendent Dr. John Marschhausen, did not respond to Playbill.com's requests for an interview.

Students were permitted to finish the run of Legally Blonde (which received standing ovations after each performance), but Hansen was ultimately reprimanded by the administration, she says, for "going against the school's code of conduct." Kloesz, according to Hansen, cited "bootie-bounce dance moves" and the use of the word "skank" in the script. Loveland, along with most schools across the U.S., has a strict no-alcohol policy, and Hansen was cited for a scene in the musical that includes a champagne party involving a group of buttoned-up Harvard University students. She pointed out that it was not staged as a rowdy college party.

Officials were careful about negatively characterizing the courtroom scene "There! Right There!" (also known as the "Gay, or European" moment), according to Hansen, who noted that the school has an LGBT club. "That issue was brought up to me verbally, but was not in any written paperwork," she said.

Hansen said she was shocked by the administration's negative reaction to Legally Blonde after the school produced the full version of Grease in recent years, as well as Beauty and the Beast last spring "with a huge tavern scene and beer mugs." Students also used real cigarettes as props during a scene in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. "I didn't hear any complaints," Hansen recalled, noting that the Loveland High production of Grease, which includes drinking, smoking, sexuality and teen pregnancy in its script, had higher ticket sales than Legally Blonde. "I never saw anyone leave. We had no one ask for refunds," she said of Legally Blonde's run.


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