Some people love drama and controversy. It feeds something inside them and satisfies a need that those who would rather avoid hot topics will never understand. Thankfully for the former group in that list of two types controversy can be found in all forms. It is in our personal lives, our work relationships, when we drive in a traffic jam, and in our entertainment.
While bringing the kids to wholesome movies and theater productions is fine entertainment, there are certainly plays, musicals, movies, and other forms of entertainment that challenge our beliefs or push their sexual agenda just a bit too far for the current times.
It is in this frame of mind we would like to pay tribute to productions that have been produced on Broadway that fall under the category of controversial.
The Children’s Hour (1934)
This dramatic play, which was composed by Lillian Hellman, is placed in a private boarding school that consists of all girls. It is run by headmistresses Karen Wright and Martha Dobie. One of the students, Mary Tilford, is a typical brat who cheats, lies, and gets her friends into trouble.
One day Mary pretends to be sick and they call in Dr. Joe Cardin to examine her. Dr. Joe also happens to be Karen’s fiancé and Mary’s cousin. Lily, Martha’s aunt, is also there reluctantly. Lily prefers to be traveling the world.
Lily becomes angry with Martha and accuses her of acting jealous and ill-tempered whenever Joe is around. Martha’s aunt accuses her of being jealous of Joe and Karen’s relationship, insinuating that Martha is attracted to Karen.
Mary and two other girls overhear this argument and the former decides to use the information in her favor. She goes to her grandmother Amelia Tilford and asks if she could stay back from the boarding school next year. Her grandmother refuses so Mary tells her that the headmistresses are lesbian lovers in secret.
Amelia becomes outraged and informs all the other parents of what she believes is going on at the boarding school. Soon a good number of students are retrieved by their parents. When they find out the reason why their students are being taken out of the school Martha and Karen travel to see Amelia and find out the truth.
Mary’s grandmother asks her to repeat her story in front of the two headmistresses and she does. Yet, when Karen points out a hole in her story Mary throws her friend Rosalie Wells under the bus and blackmails the girl into keeping her mouth shut. The school women tell Amelia they are taking her to court for slander and storm out.
The next scene we have moved forward many months to find that Martha and Karen have lost the case and their school. The community shuns them because they believe them to be lovers. Joe tries to convince Karen to start over with him in another town and to bring Martha with her. Karen is riddled with guilt believing she ruined Joe’s life and she breaks up with him. He tells her he will revisit this decision with her another day and leaves.
When hearing about their breakup Martha not only feels guilty but she realizes that indeed she has had feelings for Karen all along. This discovery frightens her immensely. Martha goes to Karen and admits her feelings but Karen dismisses her lightly. When Martha insists that it is important Karen again dismisses her feelings. Martha leaves and, unable to live with her revelation, kills herself.
Of course, the lies that Mary told are eventually revealed and Amelia offers apologies to Karen over what they had done but it is too late. Lives have been ruined and now Martha is dead.
This revue that consists of many other plays in one was originally performed Off-Broadway in 1969 but eventually appeared on Broadway in 1976. Four years ago the Broadway revival was the second longest-running revival in Broadway history. The reason this play was considered controversial because of its sexual content and excessive nudity, which was an ideology that was just coming into its heyday in the seventies. Introduction into free-love and nudity had just come along in the late 1960’s.
Falling under the genre of musical revue Oh! Calcutta! consists of thirteen scenes in two acts, including a prologue and a finale. After Samuel Beckett’s “Breath” was performed in the beginning of Act 1 we move to a scene titled Taking Off the Robe where the performers do just that. They take off their robes to a song by the same title.
Next we meet Jack and Jill, two children, played by adults, that meet at a playground. Jack persistently attempts to beguile Jill but she is scared of him because he is a boy. Eventually Jack rapes Jill and leaves her unconscious.
The next scene is A Suite of Five Letters, which consists of a song that is a composition of five letters written by unnamed writers highlighting their sexual preferences. The letters were written to a London newspaper many years earlier than the scene. Modern letters are also used in the Suite.
Now we move on to Dick and Jane. Jane is a prude and neurotic until Dick teaches her a lesson in relaxing after he gets fed up of her lack of passion. Will Answer All Serious Replies is the next scene and in it we see a couple of young lovers. They have put out an ad for another couple to “swing” with and it is answered by a curious middle-aged couple.
Delicious Indignities is the next scene in Act I and in it a woman who is virtuous is pursued by a man who wants to have sex. After some time put in the man learns that this woman is not as virtuous as she has led him to believe. Finally, the last scene in Act I is titled Was It Good for You, Too? and is centered around a gentleman who decides to partake in a study about sex. This scene is comical and slapstick in nature.
There is much more going on in Act II including nude interpretive dance and masturbation. It is in this Act that the cast seems to be exclusively nude.
In 1970 the London production of Oh! Calcutta! garnered the notice of the Metropolitan Police’s Obscene Publications Squad and they had two of their officers attend a preview. One of them had to see it two more times before stating that the Roundhouse production should be prosecuted under the 1968 Theatres Act for being obscene. In response a board of specialists attended a performance and came to the conclusion that the production was not offensive and Oh! Calcutta! was moved to the West End.
The Book of Mormon
It is difficult to have a list of controversial shows without including the creators of Southpark Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Along with writer Robert Lopez, these creators came up with a musical that would touch on so many untouchable topics with humor and music.
It all begins at a Missionary Training Center in Utah for the Church of the Latter-day Saints, or Mormons. We meet Kevin Price, a soon to be Elder in the church, who is not only loyal to his faith but confident to a fault. His goal is to be transferred to Orlando, Florida, where he can use his abilities to convert people to the Mormon Church.
Unfortunately, missionary Price is shipped off to Uganda with Elder Arnold Cunningham, who is not only self-doubting and terrible at converting people. Price looks at the opportunity to do something great with his life while Cunningham is just happy to have company and a friend.
The moment the reach Uganda the men are mugged by soldiers who are part of the regime run by a local warlord whose name we will omit from this list due to its obscene nature. Soon the pair meets Mafala Hatimbi, the chief of the tribe they were sent to convert.
The villagers living under Mafala are dealing with controversial subjects like starvation, destitution, the AIDS epidemic, and female genitalia mutilation. Face it, this musical comedy is intended to bring these very real atrocities in Africa to our consciousness and doesn’t do it discreetly or subtly. Still, even though these issues are of grave importance our Mormon duo, after learning the villagers song that gives them hope literally translates into an obscenity toward God they know their mission.
Once settling in Price and Cunningham meet the missionaries that have been there for some time yet have not had any luck converting any locals to Mormonism. Price’s ego convinces himself that he can do what the other missionaries were unable but he soon finds that they are not as easily persuaded as he thinks. In fact, Price finds how unlikable the villagers find him and worse, he comes face to face with the murderous warlord whose name we will not mention.
Controversial or not The Book of Mormon was nominated for thirteen Tony Awards in 2011 and took home nine trophies that year. Some of the categories won by this production include Best Musical, Best Book of Musical, Best Original Score, Best Direction, Best Scenic Design, Best Lighting Design, and Best Sound Design.
Check out for Book of Mormon tickets here!