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High school un-cancels production of 'Rent'

A controversy erupted when the Corona del Mar High School play was canceled over possible objections to gay content. But the principal has reviewed the script and the show will go on as planned.

February 26, 2009|Susannah Rosenblatt

At Corona del Mar High School, the show will go on.

After a flap that raised the ire of the gay community and ruffled feathers across the Newport Beach campus, drama students will be allowed to stage a production of "Rent," a musical about struggling artists in New York City.

"I never had a problem with the play selected" by drama teacher Ron Martin, Corona del Mar Principal Fal Asrani said in a statement released Wednesday by the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

"The selection of our drama productions is his call. I just requested the opportunity to review the script before it was final. [The school] administration received parent concerns from a previous play and I wanted to be able to ensure my commitment to the concerned parents as well as show my support of the student production without any reservation."

"I'm really grateful," Martin said. "The kids got this ball rolling."

What transpired in the original meeting between Martin and Asrani is a matter of dispute between the two.

Martin said that Asrani questioned the portrayal of homosexuality and prostitution in the play -- although he said there is no prostitution in the toned-down school edition of the production -- and requested a copy of the script. He told Asrani that he did not have a script at the time and that there would not be enough time for her to review it and to obtain clearance from the licensing company. Asrani then opted to cancel the show, Martin said.

Asrani and the school district confirm that she asked for a script to review, a common practice, and that Martin told her he could not provide one. However, they and other school officials say the decision to shut down the show was Martin's.

As the controversy filtered onto blogs, drama students and alumni of the 2,300-student school spoke out against the show's cancellation, which some said stemmed from intolerance. The musical deals with poverty, drugs and the impact of AIDS on gay and straight relationships.

Last week, Martin requested a rush copy of the toned-down version of the script, which he gave to Asrani on Monday.

"I am so excited -- this means so much to a lot of people," said Corona del Mar junior Jasmynn Collins, 16, who was cast as part of the vocal ensemble for the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical. "It's a great show, I don't know why it would be shut down. Obviously there's stuff in there that's a little racy, but they're real issues, they shouldn't be ignored."

Newport-Mesa Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard denounced media reports of the controversy and criticism that the school was homophobic, citing human relations achievements at the school.

"I have been extraordinarily disappointed that some media outlets chose to react to rumor as opposed to fact regarding both the production of the play, 'Rent' and the reputation of Corona del Mar High School," Hubbard said in a statement released Wednesday.

Martin said, based on slurs he had overheard and offensive videos posted by students online, that he felt there was a problem with homophobia on campus and that he hoped "Rent" would help promote understanding.

The production is scheduled to debut in late April.

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susannah.rosenblatt@latimes.com

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